If I witness an automobile accident where a pedestrian is gravely injured, and I suffer emotional distress as a result, does Massachusetts law allow me to sue the driver for negligent infliction of emotional distress?
Editor's Response re Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress:
Massachusetts law recognizes the tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED). As your question suggests, liability may arise for NIED when a person witnesses an accident and suffers emotional or psychological trauma as a result. However, Massachusetts courts have expressed concerns over claims for NIED, because of the limitless liability that result from a single negligent act (e.g., if 100 people witness the injury of a child by an automobile). Accordingly, the case law in Massachusetts limits claims for NIED to those people who can establish a close family or other relationship with the victim of the negligent act. So, for example, a mother of the hypothetically injured child might pursue a claim of NIED, but a stranger who was standing across the street and witnessed the accident may not. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has not specifically defined how close the relationship to the injured party must be, but, in 1998, the Court held that a bystander who aided a victim of a negligent act (the victim later died) could not maintain a claim for NIED. See Migliori v. Airborne Freight Corp., 426 Mass. 629. ("This court concluded that a person who witnesses or comes upon the scene of an accident and voluntarily renders aid to a victim to whom the person has no familial or other preexisting relationship, and who suffers severe emotional distress leading to physical problems after such a rescue attempt fails, does not have a cognizable claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress under Massachusetts law.")
For more information or to post a question, visit our MA Personal Injury Discussion Forum.