Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress in Pennsylvania

November 15, 2019

Negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) claims are often asserted as supplementary claims in the personal injury context, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.  For example, if you are injured in a car accident and your relative is killed in the seat next to you, then you could bring a number of different claims against the defendant-driver, including a standard injury cause of action as well as one that is tied to the emotional distress you suffered as a result of the accident.

Many first-time plaintiffs are not fully aware of how NIED claims work, however.  Let’s explore some of the basics for clarity.

Basics of an NIED Claim

In Pennsylvania, plaintiffs may be entitled to damages if they suffer severe emotional distress due to an accident that was caused by the defendant’s negligent acts.  There are a number of specific rules and exceptions that define NIED liability.  Consider the following.

Physical Impact Rule

Traditionally, Pennsylvania law required (by default) that the NIED plaintiff also been physically impacted in some way by the defendant.  If the plaintiff only suffered emotional distress, then that would not be enough.  As the law progressed, however, several exceptions were carved out.

Zone of Danger Liability

Zone of danger liability allows an NIED plaintiff to recover damages if they could reasonably argue that they felt a fear of injury due to being in the “zone of danger” near the point of impact.  For example, if a construction team negligently secured a concrete block and it fell on the street, killing a bystander, then a nearby bystander (who thought they would die to the falling block) would likely have an NIED claim on the basis of zone of danger liability.

Bystander Liability

Those who witness physical harm caused to a close family member are entitled to damages pursuant to an NIED claim.

Special Relationship Expansion

Certain special relationships — such as the professional relationship between a doctor and their patient — justify damages pursuant to an NIED claim, even without a physical impact.  For example, if a doctor mistakenly diagnoses you with terminal cancer, but it turns out that you are perfectly healthy, then (assuming you suffered severe emotional distress) you could bring an NIED claim against the doctor, even if you had no physical symptoms.

Contact a Seasoned Doylestown Personal Injury Attorney to Learn More

Our team of attorneys has extensive experience representing the interests of those who have suffered harm in a variety of personal injury scenarios, including those that primarily involve emotional distress.  Negligent infliction of emotional distress is a legitimate claim that must be treated with utmost seriousness.  Given the unique challenges typical of such disputes, however, it’s important that you work with attorneys who have a track record of success in obtaining damages for NIED plaintiffs.

Interested in speaking to an experienced Doylestown personal injury attorney about your NIED claims?  Call 215-348-2088 or submit a case evaluation through our website to schedule a free and confidential consultation.