Can You Sue For Emotional Distress in the UK?

Mariam Abu HusseinLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 22nd November 2023

Dealing with emotional distress can be really tough, especially when it’s caused by someone else’s actions.


Negative feels like anxiety, fear, grief, humiliation and stress all fall under the umbrella of emotional distress and could be caused by:

  • Accidents causing personal injury; 

  • Intentional harm like bullying or harassment;

  • Medical mistakes (malpractice); 

  • Unfair treatment at work (workplace discrimination); 

  • Sexual assault or abuse.

If you are experiencing emotional distress caused by someone or a company, you might be wondering what action you can take. In this article, we’ll dive into the details of whether or not you can sue for emotional distress in the UK, covering different types of cases and how you can prove emotional distress should you decide to bring a claim. 

Can you sue for emotional distress in the UK?

Yes, it is possible to make a claim for emotional distress in the UK, but the success of a case depends on the circumstances and the strength of the evidence.

Emotional distress claims can get a bit complicated. Usually, you need to be able to show that someone else’s actions, be it a person or a company, seriously impacted your emotional state enough to be deemed as an injury in itself.

If the harm you went through was because of someone’s carelessness (we call it negligence), then you may be able to make a successful claim if you can prove that: 

  • The actions or negligence of the defendant directly led to emotional distress (causation);

  • Your emotional distress is substantial, rather than minor or fleeting (severity);

  • The defendant’s actions involve some form of wrongdoing, such as intentional harm or negligence. 

If you’ve gone through a tough time that was caused by a person or a company, and it’s messed with your finances or well-being, you might be eligible for compensation.

Before making a claim, however, it’s important to talk to a solicitor. They can look at the details of your situation, evaluate the strength of your case, and help guide you through the legal process of making a claim for emotional distress in the UK. 

Who can you sue for emotional distress?

There is no ‘official list’ of people or entities you can bring a case against for emotional distress. However, below we have provided some examples of who a person may be able to sue for emotional distress and the potential circumstances.  

Can you sue a landlord for emotional distress?

In certain situations, tenants can sue their landlords for emotional distress. However, they can only do this when the landlord’s actions or negligence directly cause serious emotional harm. For example: 

Can you sue a business for emotional distress?

When a business messes up, it’s not always about money, it can also affect you in different ways. In some cases you may be able to make a claim if you have suffered distress, inconvenience, pain and suffering (both physical and emotional), or damage to your reputation as a result. 

Usually, for a claim of emotional distress to be successful the claimant has to demonstrate significant impact to their everyday life, and the compensation received will be reflective of the severity of the distress or inconvenience caused. 

Can you sue a family member for emotional distress?

In the UK, suing a family member for emotional distress is generally a complex and challenging matter. While it is technically possible, family relationships are often viewed differently in legal contexts. 

Legal actions for emotional distress within families are infrequent, as the Courts are cautious about intervening in private family matters. Additionally, the law typically prioritises reconciliation and resolution in the family framework (i.e. family mediation). 

That being said, if there are exceptional circumstances involving severe emotional distress caused by a family member, it is advisable to seek legal advice. A family law solicitor can provide guidance based on the specific circumstances of the situation.

Can you sue the government for emotional distress?

There may be instances where an individual has a legal basis to pursue a claim against the government for emotional distress where the government's actions have directly caused severe harm or distress, and it can be proved that the government has acted unlawfully or negligently. 

Certain government departments, such as The Department for Work and Pensions, offer what is known as ‘financial redress for maladministration’. This is for cases where a department has failed to act property or fairly and/or has provided poor service, for example:

  • Excessive delays

  • Mistakes

  • Rudeness

  • Wrong advice and discourtesy

  • Faulty procedures 

  • Bias

In these cases, compensation for severe distress is typically considered only under exceptional circumstances, when there has been a substantial decline in the customer’s physical or mental health directly attributed to the maladministration.

Can you sue an employer for emotional distress?

If a workplace becomes a scene of unacceptable behaviour, and an employer turns a blind eye, employees who suffer emotional distress as a result may have legal grounds to seek compensation.

For example, if an employer doesn’t take action despite having received multiple complaints about sexual harassment by one of their managers, they can be held responsible.

Can you sue a hospital for emotional distress?

Hospitals are usually associated with physical injury, but there’s no doubt that medical malpractice or clinical negligence can result in significant psychological harm and emotional distress. 

Healthcare professionals have a duty of care towards their patients. If they neglect this duty of care and an individual suffers injury (physical or psychological) as a result, they may be able to make a claim of clinical negligence against a hospital.

How is emotional distress defined?

Emotional distress is mental suffering triggered by the effects or memories of a specific event, pattern of events, occurrence, or condition. Emotional distress can cause symptoms like anxiety, depression, a decline in the ability to carry out tasks, or even physical illness. 

Emotional distress can be caused intentionally or through negligence. In both cases it may be possible for a victim to make a claim for compensation providing the evidence is strong enough. 

How to make an emotional distress claim

Making a claim for emotional distress in the UK involves several key steps: 

Seek professional advice 

Before you do anything, you should consult with a solicitor experienced in personal injury and emotional distress claims. As part of your case, you’ll need to be able to prove the emotional distress caused was an injury in and of itself. A solicitor can help assess the merits of your case and determine whether you have a valid claim worth pursuing. 

Establish negligence 

To make a successful claim, you generally need to demonstrate that someone else’s negligence directly caused your emotional distress. 

For example, if a healthcare professional deviated from the expected standard of care by failing to conduct a thorough assessment, misdiagnosing a condition, or prescribing inappropriate medication without monitoring.

Or, if evidence of bullying was reported to an employer and they failed to conduct a proper investigation or did not implement anti-bullying measures in response. 

Document the impact 

In order to prove your claim, it’s important to keep records of the emotional distress, such as medical records, therapy notes, and any other documentation that clearly shows the impact on your mental wellbeing.

Get a professional diagnosis 

A diagnosis from a medical professional can strengthen your case and serve as further evidence of the severity of the emotional distress caused. 

Gather evidence 

Take steps to gather as much evidence relating to the incident or circumstances that led to your emotional distress as possible including witness statements and photographs. 

Engage in mediation or pre-action protocols 

Claims for emotional distress don’t always have to go to court. In some cases, a settlement can be reached through mediation or pre-action protocols where both parties exchange information and enter negotiations.

Initiate court proceedings

If a settlement can’t be reached through alternative dispute resolution, like mediation, then your solicitor may help initiate court proceedings. The court will then assess the evidence and determine the outcome of your claim, which may or may not result in compensation. 

It’s important to remember that the specifics of a claim for emotional damage will vary on a case by case basis, and there is no guarantee that initiating court proceedings will lead to compensation. 

How much compensation can you get for emotional distress?

How much you can ask for in a claim for emotional distress depends on the situation. A court can order the other party to pay damages for: 

  • Financial losses; 

  • Injury to feelings; 

  • Personal injury (including depression); 

  • Aggravated damages. 

It’s not uncommon for other claims to be brought alongside emotional distress claims, too, depending on the situation. Compensation for injury to feelings can range anywhere from an apology to thousands of pounds in very serious cases, and depending on  other claims which may run alongside it. 

Generally, when making a claim, you will draw up a ‘schedule of loss.’ A solicitor can help you work out what you can claim if you are struggling with this. 

3 ways to prove emotional distress

The impacts of emotional distress can be wide reaching, but they can also be difficult to prove in court. While physical injuries can be evidenced through scientific tests, impact on a person’s mental well-being isn’t always as concrete. However, there are ways you can go about proving emotional distress including: 

Diagnosis from a medical professional 

Your claim for emotional distress must be backed by medical professionals. This could include detailed reports from your GP or psychologist that verifies your symptoms, provides a diagnosis and outlines the treatment for your condition. For this reason, it’s important to keep a record of any and all paperwork dealing with this such as:

  • Fit notes; 

  • Medical records; 

  • Prescriptions (including receipts);

  • Therapy appointments and notes.

This information will help the court understand the severity of the distress, the impact on your life, the costs you have incurred and the treatment necessary for your recovery. 

Cause and effect

You also need to be able to clearly demonstrate that the incident you are claiming for was directly related to the onset and severity of your symptoms. This may be harder to produce evidence for, but you might consider making a list of how your routine has changed in response to the emotional distress or gathering witness statements from people like friends, family, or your employer that clearly shows a change in your behaviour following the event. 

Physical symptoms of distress

Emotional distress can and does manifest itself physically for some. For example, if you experience symptoms such as weight loss, tension headaches, insomnia, stomach issues or any other physical issue which can be backed by a medical professional this may strengthen your claim. 

Get help with emotional distress claims from Lawhive

Emotional distress claims are a way for you to seek justice and support when you have experienced significant emotional suffering due to the actions or negligence of others. These claims acknowledge the profound impact that emotional distress can have on a person's well-being. They provide a legal avenue for individuals to hold those responsible accountable and seek compensation for the pain and suffering they have endured.

If you need assistance with a legal matter that has left you emotionally distressed, contact us today. Our expert litigation solicitors at Lawhive can provide you with a fixed-fee quote and guide you through the process, ensuring your best interests are protected.

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