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Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

The courts recognize that simply witnessing a violent crime, tragic accident or other dramatic, life-threatening event can lead to long-lasting emotional distress — that’s why most states allow claimants to seek damages for the Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, or NIED.

It’s important to note that unlike cases where the plaintiff claims intentional infliction of emotional distress in which the intent is the key factor, with NIED, there is an assumption that the defendant is legally obliged to use reasonable care to protect against NIED. As a result, NIED claimants do not need to prove that defendants sought to cause damages or inflict trauma, rather, that the defendants simply failed to use reasonable care to guard against the negligent infliction of emotional distress.

When Does the Negligent Inflection of Emotional Distress Tort Apply?

NIED can apply in situations in which a bystander suffers from emotional trauma, mental distress or other non-physical injuries as a direct result of the negligence of another person, company or organization. NIED does not apply when physical injury is involved.

In most cases, NIED claims are related to a violent event, such as a car crash caused by an impaired driver, a tragic workplace injury, or witnessing the murder of a loved one

What’s Involved With an NIED Claim?

While the required elements vary from state to state, to file an NIED claim plaintiffs need to demonstrate that the defendant’s negligence met at least one of the following criteria:

  • That the defendant could reasonably predict that their actions (or lack of action) would likely result in emotional damage to the claimant
  • That the claimant was close enough to the event that the negligent actions on the part of the defendant were placed the claimant at immediate risk of bodily harm, know also as the ‘Zone of Danger’
  • That the defendant’s negligence had some sort of impact on the claimant, even if the impact was relatively minor

The application of the NIED tort varies widely from state-to-state. The most significant case involving NIED was the 1968 case of Dillon v. Legg in California’s Supreme Court, as this was the first case in which damages were awarded based on NIED as a stand-alone tort. The courts ruled in favor of the claimant who sought damages for emotional distress related to the witnessing of a loved one’s violent death.

How Much Are NIED Claims Worth?

Ideally, damages awarded for successful NIED claims should adequately reflect the severity of the emotional distress caused, however, in practice the courts tend to struggle to quantify emotional harm. In general, damages awarded for NIED claims tend to fall well short of the damages awarded for personal injury claims.

Contact a Professional

If you are suffering emotional damages as the result of negligent infliction of emotional distress, your client may be eligible for compensation. For more information, contact a skilled mental health provider.

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Helene A. Miller / And Other Providers
Family Psychiatry and Therapy brings compassion, understanding, and skilled care to patients throughout New Jersey. Our team of mental health professionals focuses on providing a positive and uplifting experience that aids our patients in facing life’s toughest challenges.