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What Is California’s Law on Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress?

Emotional Distress

If you’ve been injured in a car accident, a slip and fall, or another situation caused by someone else’s negligence, you are entitled to monetary compensation. Your recovery will come in the form of different types of damages, meant to address different harms you have suffered as a result of your injuries. You are entitled to compensation for your medical costs, your lost wages, and the pain and suffering you endured as a result of the accident. While “economic” damages like medical bills and lost income are easier to measure, “noneconomic” damages such as pain and suffering and emotional distress can be more difficult to prove. Under certain circumstances, you might be able to recover damages even if you were not the party who was injured. Below, we discuss how California courts treat claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Call a dedicated Palmdale personal injury lawyer if you’ve suffered emotional distress because of an injury to yourself or a loved one in Southern California.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

If you’ve been involved in an accident or another negligence-based incident, you may have a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Negligent infliction of emotional distress is not a separate legal claim but is rather a basis for seeking damages in a negligence-based claim. Often, emotional distress is included as an additional basis of damages for someone who was injured in an accident–they’ll be seeking damages for their physical harm as well as for their emotional harm. Physical injury is not always required for an emotional distress claim, however.

In California, plaintiffs can seek damages for emotional distress when they were either the direct victim of a negligent act or if they were a nearby bystander who witnessed damage to a close relative. For a “direct victim” claim, the California court will require the plaintiff to prove two elements: (1) the defendant committed an act of negligence, and (2) the plaintiff suffered emotional distress as a result.

A direct victim claim does not actually require physical injury. Instead, the plaintiff must only show that the defendant was negligent–i.e., that they breached some duty they owed to the plaintiff–and that the plaintiff suffered serious emotional distress. Serious emotional distress means that a reasonable person faced with the anxiety, suffering, grief, or shock caused by the defendant’s actions would not be able to cope. For example, if a funeral home accidentally dumped the casket of a grandfather onto the floor in front of a grieving family, the family might reasonably experience emotional distress as a result and seek damages.

A person may also base a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress on having been a bystander to an injury suffered by someone else. For a bystander claim, the plaintiff must show:

  • The plaintiff is a close relative of the victim;
  • The defendant’s actions negligently caused the victim injury or death;
  • The plaintiff was present at the scene of the accident (within the “zone of danger”) and was aware of the injury at the time; and
  • As a result of the injury, the plaintiff reasonably suffered severe emotional distress, beyond what one would expect to suffer as a disinterested bystander.

For example, if a mother witnessed her child struck and killed by a drunk driver, the mother would reasonably have a claim for emotional distress damages against the drunk driver.

Get Professional Legal Help from a Seasoned Southern California Personal Injury Lawyer

If you are moving forward with a personal injury claim, you might be able to seek damages for emotional distress along with more quantifiable economic damages. Having a knowledgeable personal injury attorney on your side can help you navigate this complex road. At Kistler Law Firm, our team of experienced Palmdale personal injury lawyers can help you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us today to speak with a representative who will fight for your rights.

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