California Claims for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

  • September 20, 2019
  • Blog
California NIED elements

Negligent infliction of emotional distress is a type of tort claim that a plaintiff can bring in California even if they did not actually suffer physical injuries.

In other words, the injuries are purely emotional, which would, in many other circumstances, bar a lawsuit.

However, California has recognized negligent infliction of emotional distress (called NIED) as a legal cause of action for quite a while now.

It should be noted that negligent infliction of emotional distress claims are notoriously complex. If you are considering bringing such a claim, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced attorney right away.

At the Levinson Law Group, our California personal injury lawyers provide an overview of the standard for bringing a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim in California.

When Can You Bring a Claim for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress in California?

As explained by the court in the 1992 California Supreme Court case of Burgess v. Superior Court, there are two different types of legal theories through which a plaintiff can recover financial compensation for negligent infliction of emotional distress claims: the direct victim theory and the bystander theory.

The Direct Victim Theory

Plaintiffs can bring an NIED claim under the direct victim theory in a relatively limited number of circumstances.

The required NIED elements are as follows:

  • The defendant acted in a negligent manner;
  • The defendant’s negligence was the cause of the plaintiff’s emotional distress; and
  • The plaintiff suffered actual emotional harm.

The aforementioned California Supreme Court case of Burgess v. Superior Court offers a useful example of how the direct victim theory applies.

In this case, a mother brought a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim against her physician after her infant suffered severe injuries during the birth of her child. Notably, her doctor owed her a duty of care — which he breached. The court found that she was entitled to financial compensation for the emotional distress that she suffered as she helplessly watched her infant suffer severe harm during the birth.

The Bystander Theory

With the bystander theory of negligent infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff is bringing a claim even though they were not the victim of the negligent conduct. In other words, the defendant did not breach a duty of care that was owed to the plaintiff.

The required elements of negligent infliction of emotional distress elements under the bystander theory are as follows:

  • The defendant negligently caused a serious injury/death to a victim;
  • The plaintiff was at the scene of the incident and was aware that a victim was being harmed;
  • The plaintiff is closely related to the victim; and
  • The plaintiff suffered actual emotional distress.

The 1968 California Supreme Court case of Dillon v. Legg offers an example of how the bystander theory works.

Once again, the claim involves a mother who witnessed her young daughter being struck by a negligent driver. However, in this case, the plaintiff (the mother) was not a direct victim of the defendant’s negligence, but instead a bystander to the event.

Still, because the actual victim (her daughter) was a close relative and because she saw the harm, she could bring a claim to seek financial compensation for her emotional distress.

Get Help With Your Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Claim Today

At the Levinson Law Group, our California personal injury lawyers are strong, committed advocates for injured victims. We have the skills and experience needed to handle the full range of negligent infliction of emotional distress claims.

To set up a free, no obligation review of your case, please contact our legal team today.

With offices in Carlsbad and Oceanside, we serve communities throughout the region, including Encinitas, San Diego, Vista, San Marcos, and Escondido.