Maine Court Rules in Favor of Plaintiff in Bystander Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Claim

When you witness an accident, especially involving a close family member or loved one, it can often be a traumatic experience. Thankfully, the law provides various opportunities to recover in the wake of these incidents. When a bystander only hears — and does not see — an accident occur, however, the legal calculus can often become complex.

In a recent Maine Supreme Court opinion, a couple sued after an accident resulted in their son’s death. The plaintiffs had their own company and employed their son as a foreman. On the day of the accident, an employee of the defendant arrived at the plaintiffs’ home to deliver supplies. The delivery included multiple pieces of extremely heavy concrete. During delivery, one of the pieces fell off the forklift and landed on the plaintiffs’ son. The plaintiff’s father was in another part of the house when he heard a loud bang, followed by screaming. He ran to the scene and found his son lying face down with blood coming out of his mouth. After the concrete was removed, the plaintiff performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on his son for thirty to fifty minutes. The plaintiff’s son never regained consciousness and died by the time EMTs arrived. For several hours after he died, his body remained in the yard of the plaintiffs’ home awaiting the official investigation.

Following the accident, the deceased’s father was unable to move back into his home because of emotional pain and threatened suicide several times to his wife. The couple was later divorced. The deceased’s father filed a bystander negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) claim individually, and the deceased’s mother filed a loss of consortium claim against the defendant. The lower court ruled in favor of the defendant, and the plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, the court had to consider whether a bystander who contemporaneously perceives an accident when they are not present during the accident itself but experiences the aftermath moments later can recover under state law. The deceased’s father argued that because he heard the accident as it happened and arrived at his son’s side in seconds, he contemporaneously perceived the accident, and he should be able to recover. The court agreed, reversing the lower court’s ruling.

In Maine, bystanders can establish foreseeability of emotional injury by (1) being present at the scene of the accident, (2) suffering serious mental distress as a result of contemporaneously perceiving the accident, and (3) being closely related to the victim. Even when the bystander does not visually perceive the event as it happened, plaintiffs may still satisfy the second element by demonstrating that they otherwise perceived the event as it occurred and then witnessed the immediate aftermath of the event.

Do You Need a Maine Personal Injury Attorney?

If you or someone you know has been injured due to another’s negligence, contact the Maine attorneys at Peter Thompson & Associates. The lawyers at our firm have successfully represented clients in all types of personal injury claims, including those arising out of Maine car accidents, slip and falls, and more. Our team will advocate tirelessly on your behalf to help you pursue the compensation that you and your family deserve. Call us today at 800-204-2004.

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