In a couple of our blog posts about car accidents in Missouri, we have delved into when victims and bystanders can recover compensation for their emotional distress. Most recently, we looked at a baseball player’s serious car crash, which was witnessed by his wife. That accident touched on an important issue in Missouri’s personal injury law: When someone is a bystander or a direct victim.
Emotional Distress Claims: Bystanders Versus Direct Victims
In that accident, the Mets’ first baseman Pete Alonso was driving to spring training in Florida when he was t-boned by a vehicle that ran a red light. His vehicle flipped three times and came to a rest on his side. Somehow, he was unhurt.
His wife, though, was driving right behind him and saw the crash happen.
Under Missouri law, two different types of people can file a lawsuit for negligent infliction of emotional distress:
- Direct victims, and
Direct victims are those who were actually involved in the accident and feared for their own safety. Bystanders are people who were not hurt, but who saw someone else in an accident, like the baseball player’s wife. Because they were not the person involved in the accident, bystanders have to show not only that the defendant created an unreasonable risk of causing emotional distress, but also that:
- The bystander was at the scene of the injury, and
- Was also in the “zone of danger” where he or she had a reasonable fear for their own safety.
Because direct victims have an easier time recovering compensation for their emotional distress, it is important to figure out which category the victim falls in. Unfortunately, this is not always as simple as it sounds.
When is a Victim a Direct Victim or a Bystander?
In 2004, a driver had his family in the car when he lost control of the vehicle, which spun across the median and was hit by a truck. The crash killed their two-year-old daughter. The truck driver ran to the wreck and saw the child’s body. The sight haunted him, leading to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and severe emotional distress.
When he saw the child’s body, was the truck driver a bystander, or was he still the direct victim of the accident?
In that case, Jarrett v. Jones, the Missouri Supreme Court decided that, because the truck driver was the direct victim in the truck accident, he was still the direct victim when he saw the child’s body. The court refused to split the two events – the crash and the sight of the wreckage – from each other because the truck driver’s emotional distress came not just from seeing the child’s body, but also from the fact that he was involved in the crash.
Based on Jarrett, an emotional distress victim is a direct victim for the entire sequence of events if they were involved in the crash. This is good for accident victims, as it makes it easier for them to recover compensation for their mental and emotional anguish.
Car Accident Lawyers at the Smith Law Office Serve Victims in St. Joseph
The personal injury lawyers at the Smith Law Office strive to legally represent accident victims in St. Joseph, Kansas City, Springfield, and the rest of western Missouri. Call their law office at (816) 875-9373 or contact them online.