Many states define emotional distress as suffering, fright, anguish, horror, shock, grief, anxiety, shame, and humiliation. Compensatory damages are almost always available for individuals who have suffered physical harm after having been victimized by another person’s negligence.

For bystanders, experiencing these emotional states after witnessing a traumatic event involving a defective product, compensation isn’t so cut and dry. States vary in their laws on damages for emotional distress, with some including bystanders, and others excluding those who witnessed a traumatic situation.

For instance, take a new light bulb design that causes glass shards to spray the vicinity once turned on. If a bystander watches a friend’s facial area being peppered with glass shards, they may or may not be able to receive compensation for emotional distress, depending on the states.

No Recovery for Emotional Distress

In states that only compensate victims who have been directly, physically injured by a defective product, bystanders who have not been physically harmed are excluded from receiving a damages award. However, it may be possible for a bystander to recover if her emotional injuries caused her to experience physical symptoms.

A personal injury attorney will be able to provide more guidance on what the laws are in your state, as well as any compensation you may be entitled to receive.

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Recovery If the Bystander Was the Ultimate User or Consumer of the Defective Product

Some states will compensate bystanders if they are the ultimate user or consumer of the defective product in question. Generally speaking, the “ultimate user” or “consumer” of the defective product is the one who used the product for their benefit or enjoyment.

Recovery Under “Reasonably Foreseeable Factor” Test

In some states, bystanders have been compensated for emotional distress when their injury was reasonably foreseeable. The elements that the court will consider when determining whether an event was reasonably foreseeable include:

  • If the plaintiff was in a location that was near the scene of the accident;
  • If the shock that a plaintiff experienced was the direct result from a sensory and contemporaneous observance of the accident; and
  • Whether the primary victim and the plaintiff were closely related .

Similarly, the factors for negligent infliction of emotional distress are closely related. As mentioned, states vary widely in their laws, and your attorney will be able to inform you of the laws in your jurisdiction and how they relate to bystanders and emotional distress.

Should I Seek Legal Advice?

If you were a bystander to a defective product, and you were injured—whether physically or emotionally, you may be entitled to receive compensation. State laws vary, and an experienced personal injury lawyer will advise you on your rights, help you build your case, and represent your best interests in court.