Negligent infliction of emotional distress is a legal cause of action in Nevada that is generally brought by someone who witnesses a close family member being injured or killed in an accident. It can also be brought directly by someone who is the victim of a negligent act that causes the victim great emotional suffering.
Example: Kelly’s teenage son, Louis, has just learned to ride a bike. As Louis is riding up their street in Henderson, Nevada waving to Kelly, a car runs a red light and hits Louis on his bicycle. Kelly can only watch as Louis’ bicycle crumples and her son falls to the ground. As a result of the bicycle accident, Louis suffers several broken ribs and a brain injury. Kelly brings a lawsuit in Nevada Superior Court on her son’s behalf against the driver’s insurance for her son’s medical bills and pain and suffering. She also sues for the negligent infliction of emotional distress on her own behalf.
To help you better understand Nevada’s cause of action for the negligent infliction of emotional distress (“NIED”), our Nevada personal injury lawyers will discuss:
- 1. The elements of a Nevada claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress
- 2. Who has the standing to bring a lawsuit?
- 3. What acts can a claim of NIED be based on in Nevada?
- 4. What constitutes emotional distress under Nevada law?
- 5. What damages can I recover?
You may also wish to see our related article on the intentional infliction of emotional distress in Nevada.
In Nevada, the elements for a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress are:
- The defendant negligently caused an accident or injury;
- The plaintiff was either:
- The person who was injured, or
- Someone with a close familial relationship to the injured person;
- The plaintiff witnessed the accident or injury; and
- As a result of witnessing or experiencing the accident, the plaintiff suffered distress.
Lawsuits for negligent infliction of emotional distress can be brought in Nevada by:
- A plaintiff who is the direct victim of a wrongful act,1
- A bystander who witnesses an accident and was closely related to the victim,2 or
- In the case of the negligent handling of a deceased person’s remains, a close family member who was aware of both the death of a loved one and that mortuary services were being performed.3
You are closely related to another person for purposes of Nevada’s emotional distress law if:
- The person is a member of your immediate family, or
- You are related by blood or marriage, and
- The nature and quality of the relationship reflect actual closeness.4
Examples of people who may be closely related to you include (without limitation):
- Your spouse;
- Your minor children; or
- An in-law who is one of your best friends.
You are NOT closely related to someone if that person is:
- A friend (no matter how close) who is not related to you by blood or marriage,
- Your roommate,
- Your fiancé(e) or significant other, or
- A member of your non-immediate family to whom you speak only occasionally.
Whether you are close enough to someone related by blood or marriage to recover for emotional distress is for the jury to determine. The idea is that the injury to the family member should be foreseeable. As the Nevada Supreme Court explained:
“While it may be foreseeable that any bystander would be traumatized by witnessing the death of a child, it is not reasonably foreseeable that a stranger would suffer the same degree of trauma as a parent. Therefore, a defendant would be liable for the serious emotional distress of a parent who witnessed the death or injury of a child but may not be liable for the serious emotional distress of a stranger who also witnessed the accident.”5
In general, in order for a plaintiff to recover for negligent infliction of emotional distress, the defendant must prove that the defendant’s negligent conduct was the immediate and primary cause of the harm to the victim.6
In other words, if the defendant wouldn’t have been liable for the harm to the victim, the defendant isn’t liable for the plaintiff’s emotional distress.
In most cases, NIED is asserted by someone who witnesses a serious injury to a loved one.
Example: Jenna’s husband Bill has just driven away from Jenna and Bill’s house with his young daughter in the back seat. As Jenna is waving goodbye to her family, the husband gets into an accident caused by a truck that runs a red light. As Jenna watches, the truck slams into the car and crumples it. Jenna’s daughter is killed and her husband suffers a brain injury. As a result of witnessing the her husband’s injury and child’s wrongful death in Nevada, Jenna suffers emotional distress.
It is not always the case that a plaintiff must observe negligent conduct toward a family member.
The Nevada Supreme Court has upheld the awarding of damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress in the context of a mortuary that negligently handles a deceased person’s remains.
As the court noted:
“Requiring a potential plaintiff to observe or perceive the negligent conduct would essentially grant immunity to persons who negligently handle a deceased’s remains in many instances because the activities of a mortuary mostly occur behind closed doors.”7
However, recovery in this situation is limited to close family members who were aware of the death of a loved one and to whom mortuary services were being provided.
The emotional distress required under Nevada’s NIED law is not simply the grief that follows the death of an accident victim. It is an emotional injury directly attributable to the impact of the plaintiff’s contemporaneous (or near-contemporaneous) perception of the accident and immediate viewing of the accident victim.8
Often, there is a physical manifestation of the plaintiff’s emotional distress (such as shrieking, crying, PTSD or insomnia). However, the plaintiff does not need to demonstrate such physical manifestation. Ultimately, whether the family member suffered distress sufficient for the recovery of damages is a question for the jury (or, in a bench trial, the judge).9
There are no set amount of damages a plaintiff can recover in a Nevada case of negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The only limitation is that the jury’s determination must be fair and reasonable in light of the facts.
Our Las Vegas personal injury lawyers offer free consultations that can help you determine how much to seek if you witnessed someone you love suffer a serious injury or wrongful death in Nevada.
See our related article on Nevada good Samaritan laws.
- Shoen v. Amerco, Inc. 896 P.2d 469 (1995).
- State v. Eaton, 101 Nev. 705, 710 P.2d 1370 (1985).
- Boorman v. Nevada Memorial Cremation Society 236 P.3d 4 (2010).
- Grotts v. Zahner, 115 Nev. 339, 989 P.2d 415 (1999); State Department of Transportation v. Hill, 114 Nev. 810, 963 P.2d 480 (1998).
- Eaton, endnote 2.
- Boorman, endnote 3.
- Eaton, endnote 2.
- Grotts, endnote 4; Boorman, endnote 3. But see also Chowdhry v. NLVH, Inc., 109 Nev. 478, 851 P.2d 459 (1993).