A recent car accident involving a baseball player highlights an important issue in how Missouri’s personal injury law handles claims for emotional distress.
Mets First Baseman Involved in Serious Car Accident
Pete Alonso, the first baseman for the New York Mets, was going to spring training in Florida when another driver ran a red light and t-boned his pickup truck. Alonso’s truck flipped three times from the collision and ended on its side. Miraculously, he was unhurt and walked away from the crash.
From the perspective of personal injury law, though, the interesting aspect of the crash is that Alonso’s wife was driving behind him in another vehicle. She witnessed the event, called the police, and flagged down a passerby for help.
So yes, even though he was not hurt, Alonso can file a personal injury claim against the driver for the damage to his vehicle.
But the interesting issue is this: Can his wife also sue for emotional distress?
Missouri Allows Standalone Claims for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
Before 1983, Missouri law did not recognize standalone claims for the negligent infliction of emotional distress. Instead, state law followed the “impact rule,” which required a victim to suffer a physical injury in order to recover compensation for their emotional distress.
Since then, though, the Missouri Supreme Court has relaxed the rules and let unhurt victims sue solely for the emotional distress they suffered in an accident. In doing so, the Missouri Supreme Court has created two types of victims:
- Direct victims, and
As we will show in our next blog post, the difference between these two types of victims is surprisingly murky in some cases. However, generally speaking, direct victims are those who were involved in an accident, while bystanders are those who observed someone else get hurt and were emotionally disturbed by it.
In the case of Pete Alonso’s crash, his wife would be considered a bystander because she was in the car following his and only observed the accident. Alonso would be the direct victim.
Bystanders Have a Harder Time Recovering Compensation
The distinction between bystanders and direct victims is an important one because bystanders have a higher burden of proof. This makes it more difficult for them to recover compensation for their emotional distress.
Direct victims have to show two things to recover compensation:
- The defendant should have known that they were creating an unreasonable risk of causing emotional distress to someone else, and
- The direct victim’s emotional distress is medically diagnosable and medically significant.
Bystanders, however, have to prove three things:
- The defendant should have known that they were creating an unreasonable risk of causing emotional distress to someone else,
- The bystander was at the scene of the injury, and
- The bystander was in the “zone of danger,” or where he or she had a reasonable fear for their own safety.
Car Accident Lawyers at the Smith Law Office Serve Victims in St. Joseph
Obviously, this particular car accident happened in Florida. However, had it happened in Missouri, Alonso’s wife may have a difficult time recovering compensation for her emotional distress because of the higher standard of proof for bystanders.
The personal injury lawyers at the Smith Law Office strive to help victims and bystanders recover the compensation they deserve after a car accident in St. Joseph, Kansas City, Springfield, or the rest of western Missouri. Contact them online or call their law office at (816) 875-9373.