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Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

Often a parent or sibling will have a right to make a claim for money damages when they witness an injury of another family member. We see this in the context of a dog bite where a mother may witness an animal attack upon her child and contemporaneously sees the teeth puncture flesh. Common law dictated the person who witnessed such an event prove damages for the distress including medical treatment to show, in fact, that distress was suffered. Typical scenarios include psychiatric treatment for nightmares and anxiety and to help with symptoms of parental guilt. We have also seen this damage claimed in the context of a bicycle accident where perhaps a parent or uncle may witness a car hit their child on a bicycle in front of their residential home. The law requires the parent actually contemporaneously witness; this simply means they see the accident. I also believe this to mean hearing the accident, even though many jurisdictions disagree on a contemporaneous listening.

The right of animals has also become an issue—whether in fact a pet is a family member, thus, giving rights to the owner if a pet is killed in front of its "parent." Nevada law is very broad in this perspective and gives enormous latitude to classify a family member. In State v. Hill, 114 Nev. 810, 963 P.2d 480 (1998), this distinction is given to the jury unless it is so obvious a judge can rule out the familial relationship. "Therefore, we conclude that whether a plaintiff can recover for NIED after witnessing injury to another based on the plaintiff's relationship to the victim is generally a question of fact. The fact-finder should have the opportunity to assess the nature and quality of the relationship between the plaintiff and the victim whose injury or death was witnessed by the plaintiff. See Paugh v. Hanks, 451 N.E.2d 759, 767 (Ohio 1983) ("`We decline to draw an absolute boundary around the class of persons whose peril may stimulate the mental distress. This usually will be a jury question bearing on the reasonable reaction to the event. . . . '") (quoting Hunsley v. Giard, 553 P. 2d 1096 (Wash. 1976)). However, as noted by Justice Maupin in his concurrence, there will be cases where the district court can determine that, as a matter of law, the relationship is not sufficiently close to merit presentation to a jury. We encourage the district courts to scrutinize the closeness of the relationship when questioned in these cases prior to trial."

If your family member is the victim of a dog bite or animal attack injury involving another family member, contact Benson & Bingham to help.

Did you Know: Benson & Bingham was selected as a Best of Las Vegas 2016 Winner in the category lawyers by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the city’s longest running reader’s choice awards.