Bystander Recovery for Emotional Distress from Defective Products
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Can a Bystander Recover for Emotional Distress Caused by a Defective Product?
Let's assume a man is helping his friend install a new part in a car, and the power tool the friend is using snaps, causing pieces of metal to lodge into his eye. As a result of witnessing the event, the man has become depressed and is losing sleep. His condition continues to deteriorate, and the man has started to go to a psychiatrist to receive therapy. The man starts to wonder if he can recover damages for his suffering.
This question poses a complicated legal question: should individuals be allowed to sue the manufacturer for emotional injuries stemming from witnessing the injuries caused to friends as a result of a defective product?
In the above scenario, some courts may not allow for recovery. However, some courts do allow for bystanders to recover their emotional distress injuries caused by a defective product that injures another. This section addresses possible outcomes for bystander recover for emotional distress injuries in strict products liability.
1. No Recovery for Emotional Distress
Some states have taken the strict view and only permit recovery in strict products liability for physical injuries to the victim and not to bystanders. Without physical injuries, there can be no recovery. Thus, an emotional distress recovery may be possible if emotional injuries have physical symptoms.
2. Recovery If the Bystander Was the Ultimate User or Consumer of the Defective Product
Some states have permitted bystander recovery if the bystander was the ultimate user or consumer of the product when the defective product caused the injury. There is no absolute rule as to what qualifies as a user or consumer, but the trend is to classify users as those operating the product for their enjoyment or benefit.
3. Recovery under Reasonably Foreseeable Factor Test
Some states have permitted recovery if the bystander is able to demonstrate certain factors that show the bystander's injury to be reasonably foreseeable. These factors are similar to those for negligent infliction of emotional distress, and include:
- Whether the plaintiff was located near the scene of the accident
- Whether the shock resulted from a direct emotional impact on the plaintiff from a sensory and contemporaneous observance of the accident
- Whether the plaintiff and the primary victim were closely related
Should I Seek Legal Advice?
Because the law differs from state to state on a bystander's recovery for emotional distress injuries, seeking out a personal injury lawyer would help to determine whether recovery for emotional distress damages is available in your particular state.
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Last Modified: 09-10-2014 12:02 PM PDT
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