Can a Bystander Sue for Injury or Emotional Distress in Pennsylvania?
Even if you were not directly involved in an accident, you might still be severely emotionally distressed or disturbed by what you witnessed. Depending on your situation, you might be able to sue for emotional distress and injuries.
Suing for emotional distress is often difficult, even for people directly involved in an accident. In Pennsylvania, a bystander to an accident might be able to sue for emotional distress if a close family member was injured in the accident. You might have a different kind of claim if you were physically injured in a car or construction accident. These situations often involve injuries to bystanders, and they can often file personal injury lawsuits. The potentially liable party might vary based on the circumstances.
Call us at The Reiff Law Firm at (215) 709-6940 to schedule a case evaluation with our Philadelphia personal injury attorneys free of charge.
Bystanders Suing for Emotional Distress in Pennsylvania
Suing for emotional distress is a common claim in many personal injury lawsuits, although most cases involve plaintiffs whom the defendant directly harmed. While a bystander to an accident or incident may file a claim for emotional distress, they may do so only under very limited circumstances.
A bystander who was either injured or suffered emotional distress or anguish when witnessing an accident or something similar might have a claim. In the case of actual injury, you can sue for those injuries. In the case of emotional distress with no injuries, you can sometimes sue for “negligent infliction of emotional distress” (NIED). According to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, a plaintiff must establish one of the following options:
- That you were actually injured yourself
- That they were in the “zone of danger” and at risk of injury when they suffered emotional distress from the near-accident or
- That you witnessed a loved one get injured, whether or not you were in the zone of danger.
For several of these scenarios, our Allentown personal injury lawyers must help you establish where the “zone of danger” is. This zone varies from case to case and can be quite large in some scenarios, but small in others. If we show you were within this zone, we might have a better chance of getting your claims into court.
Injury Claims for Bystanders in Pennsylvania Car Accident Cases
It is not unusual for bystanders to be injured because of someone else’s car accident. For example, you might be a driver or passenger in another vehicle or a pedestrian walking by when the accident happens. It is also possible that you were within the zone of danger when the accident happened. If you were physically injured somehow, you were almost injured while standing nearby, or someone involved in the accident was a close relative, you might have a claim.
Car accidents can be messy, and dangerous debris might fly in all directions. If you are within the zone of danger, it would be easy to suffer bodily harm because of the accident. You might be cut by broken glass or injured by flying metal from one of the damaged cars. If you were actually injured, you can sue – but you can also sue if you were in the zone of danger and could have been injured.
If someone involved in the accident was a close family member and you witnessed the accident, you can also sue even if you were not in the zone of danger. For example, perhaps you were walking on the sidewalk when your parent drove by, and suddenly they were in a car accident right in front of you. While this scenario might seem a bit farfetched, similar cases have happened, and you could be entitled to an NIED claim.
Bystanders and Construction Accident Injuries in Pennsylvania
Construction accidents, especially those in downtown or urban areas, tend to have a lot of bystanders. Even though the construction crew might erect signs and barriers to keep people away, it is usually pretty easy to see into a construction site. If an accident occurs, a bystander might be injured and claim damages.
One example of bystander injuries is if debris from the construction accident is hurled toward bystanders from an explosion or a crane accident. The zone of danger around construction sites can be quite large, and the barriers around the site often need to be farther back to keep bystanders at a safe distance. A lot of construction sites are erected right up against sidewalks, and these sidewalks are often not blocked off, so bystanders can walk mere feet away from the construction activities. Even if you were not injured in the accident, you might have been well within the zone of danger and still have a claim for emotional distress.
Liability for Bystander Injuries Near Construction Sites
Suppose you witnessed a disturbing or distressing construction accident, and you were in the zone of danger. In that case, you can file a claim for emotional distress against the parties responsible for the accident. Construction accidents can be complicated, and various parties might be in charge, so determining whom to hold liable might be difficult.
The first parties we should analyze for liability are contractors. General contractors are often in charge of the entire construction site and are responsible for hiring workers. Subcontractors are hired by general contractors, and they tend to be in charge of specific aspects of the overall construction project.
If the accident happened because of a subcontractor’s negligence, you can sue them for your damages. However, if the general contractor was overseeing the subcontractor’s work, the general contractor is the one in charge, and you can sue them instead.
While property owners tend to hire general contractors and then relinquish control over the project, they sometimes like to be in charge. If the property owner took charge of the construction job, they might be held liable for the accident and your emotional distress.
Contact Our Pennsylvania Personal Injury Attorneys About Your Claims
Call us at The Reiff Law Firm at (215) 709-6940 to schedule a free case evaluation with our Delaware County personal injury lawyers.