Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

You may have heard the term negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) in the past, but you may not understand how this term works under North Carolina law. The type of law that governs a NIED claim is personal injury, which falls under tort law. A tort is a wrongful act or infringement of a right by someone upon another - other than one under a valid contract - that leads to civil liability. In short, the law allows for someone to recover in civil court for harm caused by another that results in physical, emotional, and/or financial injury. If you or someone you know has suffered a personal injury in Waxhaw or any other part of North Carolina, you may have a valid claim for infliction of emotional distress.

Emotional Claims in Personal Injury Lawsuits

One of the most common components of a personal injury lawsuit that relates to an emotional injury is a negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) or an intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) claim. While neither NIED nor IIED claims necessarily require physical harm to be valid, the emotional harm can have long lasting impact on the victim’s life. Unfortunately, sometimes emotional harm can cause greater and more permanent damage than physical harm depending on the injury.

That being said, the burden is high for a victim to succeed in his or her negligent infliction of emotional distress (NEID) case; the burden of proof is even more difficult in an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim (IIED).

Elements of Emotional Distress Claims

Negligent infliction of emotional distress encompasses activities by a party onto the victim that were accidental, which resulted in harm. In order for a victim to succeed in a Waxhaw NIED claim, he or she - or their estate if the person is deceased - must establish that:

  • The defendant behaved in a manner that was negligent;
  • The severe emotional distress caused to the victim by the negligent behavior was foreseeable; and
  • The defendant’s conduct was the direct and legal cause of the victim’s severe emotional distress.

In order to succeed in establishing negligence, the victim, or their estate if the person is deceased, must establish that:

  • The defendant owed a duty to the victim, generally the standard is reasonable care;
  • The defendant breached the legal duty owed or did not exercise reasonable care;
  • The breach was the actual and proximate cause of the victim’s injury;
  • The victim’s injury was foreseeable and a direct consequence of the defendant’s breach;
  • The victim suffered actual damage as a result of the above.

North Carolina courts determine whether or not the victim’s injury was reasonably foreseeable as a result of the defendant’s negligence by analyzing whether a reasonably cautious person could have foreseen that severe emotional distress would occur. Furthermore, in order for the injury to constitute severe emotional distress, North Carolina courts require the victim’s emotional state to rise above the level of regret, disappointment, or temporary fright. Instead, a victim must establish that he or she suffers from a severe and disabling mental or emotional disorder that mental health professionals generally recognize and diagnose.

Emotional Distress From Injury to Another

Under North Carolina law, individuals can not only sue for NEID caused to their person, but also for NEID experienced because of the injury of another. The most common type of NEID claim for injury to another occurs when the victim witnesses the injury or death of a loved one. In order to succeed on such claims, however, the victim claiming NEID must prove the distress was an immediate and foreseeable result of the defendant’s negligent behavior. Typically, the person must physically witness the accident or death in order to recover. Moreover, if there are too many intervening events - if too much time or too many other events pass - between the defendant’s negligent behavior and the victim’s NEID, the emotional distress will not be considered “immediate.” Additionally, North Carolina courts examine the victim’s physical proximity to the injury of the other as well as his or her relationship to the person injured or killed.

Employment Law and NEID Claims

Under North Carolina law, and the laws of other states in the nation, a workers’ compensation claim preempts any claim an employee may have against an employer for negligent injury. In other words, while a worker may not be able to sue for NEID, he or she can sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) or employment discrimination.

If you or someone you know has suffered negligent infliction of emotional distress by another in Waxhaw or anywhere else in the state of North Carolina, it is critical that you contact an experienced personal injury attorney. The skilled lawyers at Arnold & Smith, PLLC understand the law governing personal injury claims and can explain this process to you in simple terms.

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