Bystander Recovery For Emotional Distress Injuries
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Can A Bystander Recover Damages For Emotional Distress Caused By A Defective Product That Injures Another?
What happens if you are helping your friend install a new part for his car and the power tool he is using snaps causing pieces of metal to lodge into his eye? Now assume that as a result of witnessing the event you have become depressed and have lost sleep because you continue to replay the accident over and over in your head. Your condition continues to deteriorate, so you have had to go to a psychiatrist to receive medical aid and would like to now know if you can recover damages for your suffering. Should you be allowed to sue the manufacturer for your emotional injuries stemming from witnessing the injuries caused to your friend as a result of the defective product?
In the above scenario, Courts will probably not allow for recovery. Most Courts hold that you can not recover for merely witnessing injuries of another person.
Some Courts do, however, allow for bystanders to recover their emotional distress injuries caused by a defective product that injures another. This section addresses instances where a bystander may be able to recover for emotional distress injuries in strict products liability.
No Recovery For Emotional Distress
Some states have taken the hardline view and have only permitted recovery in strict products liability for physical injuries. With no physical injuries, there can be no recovery. This prevents recovery not only for direct victims, but especially for bystanders.
Note: Some states have allowed for emotional distress recovery only if the emotional injuries caused physical symptoms.
Recovery Allowed 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 tendency is to classify users as those operating the product for their enjoyment or benefit. Consequently, a boat operator or a driver has been typically been classified as a user, but someone administering the product to another has not.
Recovery Allowed 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; and
- whether the plaintiff and the primary victim were closely related
How Do I Determine Whether I, As A Bystander, Will Be Able To Recover?
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: 05-10-2011 11:32 AM PDT
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