Do I have a Claim for Emotional Distress?

In Pennsylvania, you may be entitled to monetary damages if you suffer emotional distress as a result of a defendant who acted negligently. There are traditionally four circumstances in which a plaintiff can recover damages in a negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) claim: first, if the defendant had a contractual or fiduciary duty toward the plaintiff; second, if the plaintiff suffered a physical impact; third, if the plaintiff was in the “zone of danger and at risk of immediate physical injury”; or fourth, if the plaintiff witnessed an injury to a close family member.

The most common types of NIED claims are called “zone of danger claims” and “bystander” claims. Zone of danger claims are brought where the plaintiff felt a fear of injury due to being in close proximity to the harm. Consider for example a case where a father was standing next to his son when his son was struck by a car. As soon as his son was struck, the father began experiencing chest pains and suffered a heart attack. Even though the father was not actually struck by the car, he was in the zone of danger the driver created and therefore could recover for emotional distress.

But the greatest number of NIED cases deal with bystander claims brought by plaintiffs who are outside of the zone of danger but nevertheless experience severe emotional trauma from the injury to a family member. In this type of claim, to recover money damages, a plaintiff must show that he was located near the accident scene, that he experienced emotional distress from contemporaneous observance of the accident, and that he was closely related to the victim of the accident. Critically, Pennsylvania appellate courts have adopted the view that it is not necessary that the family member of the victim actually see the victim at the moment of injury. For example, a mother who heard the sound of her daughter being struck by a car and came upon the accident scene immediately after it happened was permitted to recover damages. This “contemporaneous observance” requirement is often the subject of litigation in NIED cases. An experienced trial lawyer will understand that indirect perception is sufficient to establish this type of claim, so long as the emotional shock was the immediate and direct effect of perceiving the injury.

Finally, it is important to understand that in a bystander claim for NIED the bystander family member generally must have some type of physical manifestation of the emotional distress in order to recover damages. Pennsylvania courts have maintained this requirement as a way of ensuring that a plaintiff’s claims of emotional distress are corroborated. But, where a plaintiff has suffered conditions like depression, nightmares, and anxiety[1], or where there was testimony that a plaintiff mother was hysterical and in shock at the accident scene involving her child[2], courts have held that is sufficient to establish the physical manifestation element.

Claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress are an important tool that your lawyer can use to get you fair compensation for real injuries that you have suffered. Contact the injury lawyers at McMonagle Perri so that we can help you determine if you have a case for NIED and can be compensated for your emotional distress.

[1] Love v. Cramer, 414 Pa.Super. 231, 606 A.2d 1175, 1179 (1992)

[2] Krysmalski v. Tarasovich, 424 Pa.Super. 121, 622 A.2d 298 (1993).