Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

In Massachusetts a person who has suffered emotional harm as a result of the negligence of another may be able to recover damages under the theory of negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Usually the claim is made in addition to other related claims. In order to prove such a claim a plaintiff is required to present sufficient evidence (1) that the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff emotional distress, (2) resulting in physical harm manifested by objective symptomology, and (3) a reasonable person would have suffered emotional distress under the circumstances. The physical harm requirement and reasonable person standard serve “to strike a wise balance between the fear of fraudulent claims and the danger that worthy claims will not be heard.”

Physical Harm

To satisfy the “physical harm” requirement, a Plaintiff must provide “objective corroboration of the emotional distress alleged.” A plaintiff must do more than allege “mere upset, dismay, humiliation, grief and anger.” Evidence of nervousness, anxiety and difficulty sleeping, however, may be sufficient. Although corroboration of the physical symptoms associated with the emotional distress is necessary, such corroboration may be provided by friends, family, co-workers and others. Consultation with a medical provider is not required to sustain a claim, however, the absence of medical expert testimony to corroborate symptoms may make it more difficult to survive a defendant’s motion for summary judgment or to prove the claim at trial. A medical expert can also provide necessary evidence on the link between a plaintiff’s physical symptoms and the emotional distress experienced as a result of the defendant’s negligence.

Types of Claims

Claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress arise in many different contexts. In one recent case, two plaintiffs sued a newspaper for negligent infliction of emotional distress for publishing their photos on the front page identifying them as involved in the Boston Marathon bombing. Upon seeing his picture under the headline “BAG MEN,” one plaintiff alleged that he immediately started shaking; his mouth went dry; and he felt as though he was having a panic attack. When the other plaintiff was shown an image of the front page, he was terrified, began to shake and sweat, and felt dizzy and nauseous.

PTSD

In another case, the plaintiffs’ home exploded and burnt to the ground as the result of the alleged negligence of a gas company worker. The plaintiffs witnessed the destruction of their home, an occurrence which the American Psychiatric Association lists as one of the most common causes of posttraumatic stress disorders. They reported symptoms such as headaches, concentration problems, and sleeplessness which corresponded to common manifestations of posttraumatic stress disorder. The plaintiffs also presented medical evidence linking their symptoms to the event.

However, in another case, a Superior Court judge awarded summary judgment to a defendant propane supplier. In that case a woman was severely burned in a propane explosion caused by a leak from her clothes dryer. She died several days later. In addition to a wrongful death action, her husband brought his own claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress against the propane supplier alleging that following the tragedy he had been unable socialize and had required additional care from his daughter. The court found such evidence insufficient corroboration of physical harm to support the claim.

If you or someone you know was injured due to someone else’s negligence, contact Attorney Bob Allison to receive a free consultation to review your claim. Call 978-740-9433 or fill out our online contact form today.