A bystander who witnesses an accident may recover for emotional distress in certain limited situations. To recover, the witness-plaintiff must prove that he or she (1) was located near the scene, (2) was emotionally injured by the contemporaneous sensory observance of the accident, and (3) was closely related to the victim.
Appellant and her fiance were involved in an accident with respondent. Appellant commenced an action against respondent seeking "bystander" emotional distress damages in connection with fatal injuries sustained by her fiance in the accident. The district court dismissed her claim on the ground that she was not, as a matter of law, "closely related" to her fiance for these purposes. On appeal, the court affirmed the order dismissing her claim on the grounds of the degree of her relationship with the deceased.
Can the appellant seek for emotional distress damages in connection with fatal injuries sustained by her fiancé in an accident?
The court concluded that in claims for bystander emotional distress, immediate family members of the victim qualified for standing to bring negligent infliction of emotional distress claims as a matter of law. When the family relationship between the victim and the bystander was beyond the immediate family, the fact finder was to assess the nature and quality of the relationship and, therefrom, determine as a factual matter whether the relationship was close enough to confer standing. This latter category represented the "few close cases" where standing would be determined as an issue of fact. The court held that any non-family "relationship" failed, as a matter of law, to qualify for negligent infliction of emotional distress standing. Because appellant was not a member of the decedent's family by blood or marriage, she did not have standing to bring an action for bystander emotional distress.