In most accident cases the emotional trauma that family members suffer as the result of an injury to their loved one is a loss that is not compensated under Pennsylvania law. However, there is one significant exception known as Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress. If one family member sees or even hears another family member being injured due to the negligence of another the witness family member may be entitled to recover for the emotional distress related to witnessing the harm to their loved one. The classic example is one in which a parent is holding his or her child’s hand and that child is struck by a vehicle. The courts have recognized that this experience is altogether different and worse than simply receiving word that one’s loved one has been injured. For this reason the person who witnesses a loved one being injured is entitled to recover for the emotional distress that the event causes.
There are four situations in which a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress may be pursued under Pennsylvania law. They are:
- Situations where the defendant had a contractual or fight do share a duty toward the plaintiff;
- Where the plaintiff was subjected to physical impact;
- Where the plaintiff was in a zone of danger, thereby reasonably experiencing a fear of impending physical injury; or
- The plaintiff observed a tortious injury to a close relative.
Toney v. Chester County Hospital, 961 A.2d 192 (Pa. Super. 2008).
In order to advance a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress under the bystander rule a plaintiff must show that he or she was near the scene of a traumatic event, that he or she sustained shock resulting from a direct emotional impact upon the plaintiff from the sensory and contemporary observance of the event, and that the plaintiff was a close relative of the victim of the event.
Simply speaking, close proximity to an accident involving one’s relatives can, if the relevant standards are met, permits that person to recover for the emotional distress that naturally arises from being witness to such an event.