How to Sue for Emotional Distress After Being Sexually Abused

how to sue sexual assault emotional distress

Sexual abuse and assault impacts thousands of people in Georgia each year, inflicting not only physical trauma but emotional distress, too. A sexual assault lawsuit – separate from any criminal case proceeding – can help survivors recover damages for the harm caused. Our Atlanta sexual assault attorneys can offer advice on how to sue for emotional distress in these cases. 

Emotional distress damages are compensation one recovers for impact that would include anxiety, humiliation, and psychological trauma. Emotional distress claims tied to a physical injury are often stronger. 

Few doubt the fact that sexual assault and abuse survivors suffer some degree of emotional distress. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAIN), survivors often experience a range of immediate and long-term mental and emotional damage, including: 

  • Depression
  • Flashbacks
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Shock
  • Self-harm/suicide 
  • Dissociation
  • Panic attacks
  • Substance abuse 
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleep disorders

These conditions are serious and can have a profound impact on one’s ability to live and enjoy their everyday lives. The lingering repercussions can even destroy once close personal relationships. 

Survivors know too well that the scars of these wounds are often much slower to heal than the ones that can be seen. They deserve to be compensated for them.  

Who Can Be Sued for Emotional Distress After Rape?

In general, there are two types of potential defendants in claims for emotional distress following a sexually motivated attack or abuse. They are:

  • The attacker or abuser who committed the sexual assault. 
  • Third parties who could have prevented the crime had they used reasonable care. 

The person who commits sexual assault can be both prosecuted criminally and held civilly liable. Claims against perpetrators for intentional infliction of emotional distress tend to be most successful when the perpetrator is not only identified but has the available personal assets necessary to satisfy the resulting judgment. 

Third-party claims against property owners, schools, Airbnb hosts, etc. can be pursued even if the perpetrator is never convicted or even caught. Employers of the attacker may also be held liable if the assailant was acting in the course and scope of employment. If the third party had a responsibility to keep you reasonably safe or warn you of danger and failed to do so, they can be sued for emotional distress resulting in loss of life enjoyment.

Unlike compensation for things like medical expenses to treat physical injuries and lost wages because of an inability to return to work, putting a dollar amount on emotional distress is much more of a subjective process. The dedication and experience of your Atlanta sexual assault attorney plays a pivotal role in the success of your claim. 

Prevailing on a Claim of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

The plaintiff’s proof burden in a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress is stringent. As established in the 2009 Georgia Court of Appeals case of Steed v. Fed. Nat. Mortg. Corp., plaintiffs need to demonstrate:

  • The conduct that gave rise to the claim was intentional or reckless
  • The conduct was extreme and outrageous
  • The conduct caused emotional distress
  • The emotional distress was severe

It must be considered “so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.” 

In cases alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress by a perpetrator of rape or sexual assault, the question of whether it is atrocious and goes beyond the bounds of decency is often straightforward enough. It is less clear when the defendant is a third-party. 

Sometimes in cases where one party has control over another (such as in the employer-employee relationship, prisoner-guard, student-school district, etc.), it can produce a character of outrageousness that might not otherwise exist. As Georgia courts have noted in the past, that is because hierarchical relationships aren’t easily avoided when a victim fears reprisal for complaining. 

In the 2016 U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia case of Malphurs v. Cooling Tower Systems Inc., plaintiff alleged that sexual assault and sexual harassment by her boss was constant, repetitive, and in the workplace. These included not only statements but physical assaults on multiple occasions. Though any one of the incidents reported might not be actionable on their own as intentional infliction of emotional distress, they could be when considered as a whole. Plaintiff asserted that she suffered physical manifestations of this severe distress, including panic attacks, anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, and nightmares. 

The court held that evidence was sufficient to show the defendant’s conduct extreme and outrageous and that the plaintiff’s distress was severe. 

If you have been sexually assaulted, harassed, or abused, our dedicated injury lawyers in Atlanta will help examine the viability of your emotional distress claim. 


The foregoing answers are not legal advice and are merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation regarding your situation. For more information or to inquire about a free consultation, contact Stephen D. Apolinsky, an experienced Atlanta sexual assault victim attorney, at Apolinsky & Associates at (404) 377-9191 or email him at


About the Author

Stephen Apolinsky

Stephen D. Apolinsky is a Personal Injury Attorney who specializes in representing individuals and families concerning wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases. Stephen is licensed to practice in Georgia, Alabama, and the District of Columbia. With over 33 years of experience representing personal injury victims, Stephen has successfully tried over 80 cases to verdict before judges or juries, and has negotiated over 300 cases to out-of-court settlements. Stephen has been recognized as a Georgia Super Lawyer, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association.