Minnesota Supreme Court Expands Damages Available for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

Link to case: Engler v. Ill. Farmers Ins. Co.

The plaintiff, Engler, was the mother of a child who was struck by a passing motorist who lost control of her vehicle. His mother was standing nearby. Weeks after the incident, she sought medical treatment for various symptoms. “She was irritable, did not want to get out of bed, cried frequently, and had lost all ambition. A doctor diagnosed Engler with post-traumatic stress syndrome and depression and prescribed antidepressants.”

Engler filed suit for negligent infliction of emotional distress and won. She could prove all the elements of her claim: (1) the existence of a duty of care; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) an injury; and (4) the breach of the duty being the proximate cause of the injury.

In addition to the foregoing elements of negligence, a plaintiff claiming negligent infliction of emotional distress must prove that she: (1) was within the zone of danger of physical impact [created by the defendant’s negligence]; (2) reasonably feared for her own safety; and (3) [consequently] suffered severe emotional distress with attendant physical manifestations.

In this case, all elements of the claim were met, but the defendant argued a defendant has no duty to protect someone from emotional distress caused by fearing for the safety of another.

The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed, and joined a majority of states that permit “bystander recovery” in a negligent infliction of emotional distress case. The Minnesota Supreme Court held that a bystander could recover if she was in the same “zone of danger” as the other who was harmed.