Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress in North Carolina

football fieldIn a recent North Carolina car crash decision, the plaintiff appealed from a trial court order dismissing his lawsuit. His lawsuit alleged negligent infliction of emotional distress against a county board of education and two others. The issue was whether it was reasonably foreseeable that the plaintiff would suffer severe emotional distress based on the defendant’s negligence, which led to his friend’s death.

One of the defendants was a teacher and varsity football coach at a high school. The plaintiff and another defendant were football team members. The team had access to equipment, including a motorized vehicle. The teacher had authorized the team’s use of the vehicle, even though the team was made up of minors, and nobody had trained them on safely operating the vehicle.

The complaint alleged that the plaintiff, his defendant teammate, and other team players were scrimmaging and doing drills. The defendant teacher told another defendant to use the motorized vehicle to move coolers across the field. The defendant driver traveled at a dangerous and excessive speed across the field. The plaintiff and other players were approaching him, but when they saw him driving straight at them, they moved. However, the defendant driver turned to the right and hit one of the players, trapping him with the hood. The player’s head hit the running track, and he was run over. He was brain injured and only partly responded when people tried to communicate with him at the scene.

The plaintiff sued the defendants, alleging that their negligent actions legally and foreseeably caused his severe emotional distress and that their actions had combined such that they were jointly and severally liable for his injuries. The defendants denied negligence and also filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 12(b)(6). The motion to dismiss was granted. The plaintiff appealed.

He argued it was a mistake to grant the motion to dismiss because he’d sufficiently alleged negligent infliction of emotional distress arising from concern for both himself and his brain-injured teammate and friend.

The appellate court explained that a lawsuit for negligent infliction of emotional distress could arise from concern for one’s own safety or another person’s safety. A plaintiff needs to allege:  (1) there were negligent actions by the defendant, (2) it was reasonably foreseeable these actions would result in severe emotional distress for the plaintiff, and (3) they actually did cause the plaintiff serious emotional distress. The distress needs to be severe and disabling, even though no actual physical injury is necessary. Temporary fear is insufficient.

If the defendant’s actions wouldn’t harm a person who is normally sensitive, it’s necessary to show that the defendant knew of the plaintiff’s unusual sensitivity. Factors to be considered on the issue of foreseeability include how close the plaintiff was to the negligent actions, the relationship between the plaintiff and the other person who was harmed, and personal observation by the plaintiff.

The appellate court explained that the only part of the plaintiff’s claim arising from concern for himself was narrowly escaping from being hit. However, this was an allegation of temporary fear. There were no other cases involving a bystander claim in which the relationship between the plaintiff and the person for whom he was afraid was merely a friend and teammate. Simply being nearby and observing the victim get injured was not enough. Nothing suggested how close their friendship was. The dismissal was affirmed.

If you suffered injuries due to the fault of another driver, the experienced Charlotte car accident lawyers at Maurer Law may be able to help you recover compensation. We represent clients in the Charlotte, NC metro area and also in Greensboro, NC and Winston-Salem, NC. Contact us at 919-229-8359 or via our online form.

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