Can I sue for emotional distress damages?

Spooky

I get asked this question all the time, “can I sue for emotional damages?” The answer to that question is almost certainly “no” in real estate disputes. No matter how mean your landlord was to you about getting your deposit back, no matter how much sleep you lost when your contractor abandoned the job, no matter how sick to your stomach you became when your insurance company denied your claim, you simply cannot recover for emotional damages in California when someone else breaches a contract with you.

When someone breaches a contract with you, you only get “contract damages,” which almost always means compensation for your out-of-pocket losses that are a foreseeable result of the breach. That amount gets calculated a variety of different ways, depending on the type of contract, breach, case and loss, but none of those include emotional damages.

In order to get a recovery for emotional distress, you have to prove up one of two separate tort claims: negligent infliction of emotional distress or intentional infliction of emotional distress. The former is almost always somehow related to health and personal injury claims. The latter is only for “shocking and outrageous conduct” in a limited set of circumstances. Neither is usually found in a real estate dispute.

In a real estate dispute, the closest alternative is a “nuisance” cause of action, where someone is unreasonably interfering with your reasonable, quiet enjoyment of your own property. In nuisance lawsuits, a plaintiff that wins may recover nominal damages for their annoyance.

Hope that helps.