The harm that people can suffer in car accidents and other personal injury situations are not limited to physical trauma. Victims can suffer mental and emotional injuries, as well. Missouri’s personal injury law recognizes this, and lets victims recover compensation for any emotional distress that was caused by the accident, even if the victim was not directly involved in it.
Victims Can Recover Compensation for Emotional Distress, Alone
Back in 1976, a receptionist in a 24-story office building got stuck in an elevator for half an hour. While she was not hurt, the experience left her with extreme anxiety.
At that point, though, Missouri’s personal injury law used the so-called “impact rule.” This rule required a physical injury in order for victims to recover compensation for any emotional distress they suffered. When the receptionist sued the elevator company, she had to appeal her losses to the Missouri Supreme Court.
In that case, Bass v. Nooney Co., the Missouri Supreme Court decided that the negligent infliction of emotional distress was serious enough to let the victims recover compensation, provided that:
- The defendant should have realized that his conduct led to an unreasonable risk of causing emotional distress to someone else, and
- The emotional distress is medically diagnosable and severe enough to be medically significant.
Bystanders Can Recover Compensation, Too
In 1985, a 5-year-old boy needed heart surgery. The surgery was only partially successful, and the doctor told the boy’s parents this. However, the hospital’s operation report said that the surgery was a complete success. As a result, the boy continued to have heart problems but the parents were unable to get the medical help that they needed because the operation report told subsequent doctors that the condition had been fixed. It was not until much later, and a change in hospitals, that the heart problem was rediscovered.
The boy’s parents sued the doctors and the hospital for the emotional distress that they had caused, even though the parents were not the ones who suffered from their negligence.
That case, Asaro v. Cardinal Glennon Memorial Hospital, also went to the Missouri Supreme Court. The court adopted the so-called “zone of danger” test. This test lets bystanders – those who were not directly or personally the victims of the accident – recover compensation for their emotional distress. To recover, though, bystanders have to show three things:
- The defendant should have realized that his conduct created an unreasonable risk to the bystander,
- The bystander was present at the scene of the event that produced the injury, and
- The bystander was in the “zone of danger,” where he or she was put in a reasonable fear for their own safety.
The classic example of this is when a parent suffers emotional distress from a car accident that hurt their child in their own vehicle.
In Asaro, though, the parents of the boy with the heart condition were not in the zone of danger: They never faced any physical peril of their own.
Personal Injury Lawyers at the Smith Law Office Serve St. Joseph
In a future blog post, we will delve into the difference between bystanders and direct victims.