When an accident occurs, not all of the damage is physical. A person can be mentally and emotionally injured by witnessing physical harm to a loved one. When that happens, the person who sees the injury may qualify for compensation for their mental and emotional injuries. The type of claim based on the emotional anguish of witnessing an accident is called negligent infliction of emotional distress, or NIED.
Here everything you need to know about negligent infliction of emotional distress explained by personal injury lawyers.
What Standard Does Nevada Use To Determine Who Qualifies To Bring a Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Claim?
The standard that Nevada uses for who qualifies to bring a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim is a close family relationship. That means either a first-degree family member or a family relation that is a little more distant but still very close. In Nevada, the courts have changed the standards for standing several times through various case laws. The current standard for who qualifies is someone with a close family relationship either by a first-degree blood relationship or by a more extended family relationship with evidence of personal closeness.
Rejecting the Zone of Danger Rule – State v. Eaton, 710 P.2d 1370 (1985)
The first modern development in establishing the current standard in negligent infliction of emotional distress cases came in State v. Eaton 710 P.2d 1370 (1985). In the case, the Nevada Supreme Court was tasked with deciding whether a zone of danger rule applies in Nevada NIED cases. The case facts are that a family was riding in a car when it struck a semi-truck, killing a 13-month old. The Eaton court explained that courts used to require some physical impact on the plaintiff to recover for NIED. Then, they replaced the physical impact rule with the zone of danger rule.
What Is the Zone of Danger Rule?
The zone of danger rule requires that a person be at risk of physical danger in an accident in order to have a valid claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. It is the legal premise that a person does not have the standing to claim emotional distress if they are not physically in proximity to the accident, such that they could have sustained physical harm. The plaintiff doesn’t have to actually suffer injuries. Instead, the zone of danger requires them to be close enough to the accident that being injured themselves was a possibility.
Why Do Some States Have a Zone of Danger Rule?
Some states use a zone of danger rule in negligent infliction of emotional distress claims as a way to limit legal liability. They see liability as too broad and speculative if it extends to those who are not in physical danger in the accident. The states adopting this rule see it as a clear way to draw a line at the defendant’s liability instead of having it extend indefinitely.
The Eaton court, however, declined to adopt the zone of danger rule. They borrowed from the California Supreme Court’s logic in Dillon v. Legg, 441 P.2d 912 (1968) that using the zone of danger rule creates an arbitrary line where some can recover and others cannot. They said that it’s not reasonable to decide that someone’s mental and emotional suffering is based on how physically close they are to an accident. Proximate cause between the accident and emotional damages is a requirement; however, a certain distance between the plaintiff and the accident is not required for an NIED claim.
Expanding Standing in Nevada Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Claims – State Dep’t of Transp. V. Hill (1998)
More than a decade after Eaton, the court greatly expanded standing in NIED claims in State Dep’t of Transp. v. Hill (1998). The Hill case arose after storms damaged a stretch of interstate freeway. The state applied a pothole filler that then became slick with rain. A vehicle flipped. Three occupants of the car suffered injuries while one died. The person who claimed NIED was the in-law of the victim suffering the fatality.
The Hill court said that there should not be a hard-and-fast rule about the degree of family relationship in order to have stood for NIED claims. They noted that the standard is whether the plaintiff is closely related to the victim. That may or may not mean a certain degree of a legal or blood relationship. Further clarifying, the Hill court said that whether the plaintiff has a close relationship is a question of fact, which a fact finder should typically determine. In some circumstances, the court may still decide the issue as a matter of law.
Clarifying/Contracting Standing in Nevada Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Claims – Grotts v. Zahner, 989 P.2d 415 (1999)
Shortly after Hill, the Nevada Supreme Court once again contracted standing in Nevada NIED claims through Grotts v. Zahner, 989 P.2d 415 (1999). They said that there must be some kind of blood or legal relationship for the plaintiff to have standing in an NIED claim. They added that while generally, the fact finder should determine whether there is a close relationship, the determination should be based on a family relationship by blood or marriage.
Immediate family members qualify as a matter of law. If it’s beyond immediate family, fact-finders should assess the closeness of the relationship. Generally, a non-family connection fails to be sufficiently close for NIED standing. In the Grotts case, the court denied recovery to a fiance who witnessed an accident.
The standard for Standing in Nevada Nied Cases
The standard for standing in Nevada NIED cases is a close family relationship based on blood or marriage. First-degree family relationships are close as a matter of law. In all other cases, the fact finder must determine whether the relationship qualifies. Nevada does not use a physical touching or zone of danger rule in any circumstances to determine to stand in NIED cases.
Attorney Adam S. Kutner has spent more than 29 years fighting for fair compensation for victims of personal injury in Nevada. With more than 40,000 settlement cases behind him, Mr. Kutner knows his way around the court system. As a former insurance defense attorney, he knows how to get clients the maximum settlement promptly and trouble-free. Adam S. Kutner, Injury Attorneys has also been recognized by the Las Vegas Review-Journal to be Las Vegas’ Best Accident Lawyer.