Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress To Bystanders In Car Accidents

Authored by , LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

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A person who causes an automobile accident is usually liable for the personal injuries and property damages that result from the collision.  In addition, the at-fault driver may also be liable for "emotional distress" suffered by bystanders who witnessed the accident. 

What Do I Need To Prove To Sue For Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress As a Bystander To An Automobile Accident? 

Generally, the bystander may sue for negligent infliction of emotional distress because he/she has witnessed the death or injury of another in an automobile accident if: 

      1. The at-fault driver was negligent; 
      2. The at-fault driver's negligence was the cause of the bystander's severe emotional distress; and
      3. The emotional distress to the injured party was "reasonably foreseeable" to the at-fault driver.  

When Will Emotional Distress Be Reasonably Foreseeable To the At-Fault Driver?

There are 3 factors that will generally prove that emotional distress was reasonably foreseeable to the at-fault driver

  1. The bystander has a close family relationship with the injured victim; 
  2. The bystander was close by at the scene of the accident; and 
  3. The bystander had sensory and contemporaneous observation of the accident. 

Do I Need To Be Physically Harmed Or In Danger of Being Hit To Sue? 

Not all states allow bystanders to sue for negligently inflicted emotional distress just because they witnessed some tragedy. However, in states that do allow this claim, it is usually not necessary to prove that the bystander was in danger of being harmed or was physically harmed in the automobile accident. 

Does the Bystander Have To Be a Family Member to Sue? 

Maybe. Almost all states allow the spouse of the victim to sue, but it is very rare that any non-family members beyond that will be able to sue. However, there have been exceptions in a few cases where there was a very deep and intimate relationship between the bystander and the victim. 

How Can I Avoid Liability For Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress To a Bystander In an Automobile Accident?

One defense that the at-fault driver may raise is to show that the emotional distress was not reasonably foreseeable. A common way to do so is to show that the bystander is not closely related to the injured victim. 

Do you Need a Personal Injury Attorney to Sue for Emotional Distress? 

If you or a loved one have been injured by the intentional or negligent acts of another, you should speak to an attorney immediately to learn more about preserving your rights and remedies.  A personal injury lawyer will be able to explain the value of your case and help you navigate through the complicated legal process.

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Last Modified: 05-31-2012 02:26 PM PDT

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