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What is emotional distress and when can it warrant suing for compensation? (A legal explanation)

יהודה אלחרר
יהודה אלחרר

The term “emotional distress” has become a common term. In many cases people seek to sue for emotional distress, but when can this in fact be done? What does such a lawsuit entail and what amount of compensation can one demand? These important questions and more will be discussed below by our attorney Nirit Flaishman, an expert on tort law.

Our law offices, with branches located in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, specialize in tort and civil law. Our attorneys have extensive experience in providing consultation and legal representation on a range of issues, including personal accidents, defamation, emotional trauma and more. Our attorneys accompany their clients through all the stages of a tort lawsuit and provide them with comprehensive legal services specially tailored to their individual needs and to the proceedings involved.

Emotional distress

What is emotional distress?

The original purpose of tort law is to compensate claimants for damage they have suffered. Unlike in contract law and breach of contract lawsuits, in tort lawsuits, the amount of compensation ruled by the court does not necessarily match a previously agreed upon sum. In the past, tort lawsuits mainly dealt with cases of damages which could be defined as being worth a certain sum of money. Over the years it became clear that there are damages which cannot be precisely estimated in monetary terms, but still warrant compensation. An example of one such well-known case is the scandal of Tnuva adding silicon to its UHT milk. The case was brought to court, where it was ruled that the product’s many consumers be compensated in a class-action lawsuit. As a result, the amount of compensation for the consumers’ emotional distress and feelings of disgust was determined based on the court’s general estimation.

When can a claim be made for mental distress?

There are countless examples of cases in which a claim for mental distress can be made, including: disappointment in a product, noise or nuisance caused by neighbors, being fired from a job with no prior warning, breach of a personal service contract (for example, a DJ cancelling shortly before a wedding), dissatisfaction with a service, and more. Such lawsuits are most likely to be filed in small claims court; however, some of them end up reaching the magistrate and even the district courts. When the claim concerns a workplace conflict, it is brought before the labor court. When the issue is a domestic dispute, the claim will usually be dealt with in a family court.

What do courts rule for emotional damage?

The amount of compensation which can be ruled in an emotional distress suit varies widely. A recent example is a case in which a claimant, a minor, attended a bat-mitzva at an outdoor venue as a guest. The claimant is allergic to dairy, so he ate a dessert from the dessert stand which was labeled “Parve”. However, the dessert was discovered to be dairy. As a result, the damage he suffered necessitated therapy for emotional trauma, bodily harm and more. He sued for emotional distress. The Tel Aviv magistrate court (Tel Aviv ruling 35036-11-17) ruled a total of 174,000 shekels in compensation for the claimant, of which the compensation for non-physical harm and emotional distress was deemed to be 36,000 shekels.

It is important to know that such claims can also be filed against government offices, and that our office is experienced in this field. An example can be found in a 2021 ruling by the small claims court in Petah Tikva. In the case, the court ruled that the claimant be compensated with 10,000 shekels due to emotional distress for which he had sued the Ministry of Health. The lawsuit dealt with the Ministry’s lack of handling of his appeal of the requirement to quarantine following exposure to a person who was sick with the coronavirus. In another 2021 ruling, the Tel Aviv magistrate court ruled that the Ministry of Interior be required to pay compensation of 50,000 shekels for mental trauma. This was due to the Ministry’s misconduct during the procedure of an application for citizenship submitted by a foreign partner of an Israeli citizen. Processing of the application was delayed, during which time the foreign partner did not receive clearance to enter Israel, resulting in her remaining outside Israel’s borders and the two being separated from each other for a prolonged period of time.

Contact an attorney specializing in tort law

In this article we explained the grounds for suing for emotional damages and the different ways of filing such a lawsuit. If you have any questions or need assistance on this issue, or on any other issue in the field of tort law, our office is ready to help. Our attorneys have vast professional experience in tort cases in a variety of fields. Contact us at the telephone numbers or e-mail address below to schedule a consultation at our office in Tel Aviv or in Jerusalem.

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