May 3, 2024

What is A bystander Liability Claim?

Feltoon Law, PLLC

bystander liability claim

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A bystander claim allows an individual to file for emotional harm after witnessing the severe injury or death of a loved one. With this claim, the bystander can sue the person who hurt their loved one for emotional harm, even if this bystander was not physically injured themselves. 

Imagine that a mother is driving on the highway with her son in a separate car following behind her in the lane. Without warning, an 18-wheeler attempts to merge and hits her, causing a serious crash. The mother can sue the truck driver, since his negligence caused her injuries.

However, with a bystander liability claim, the son can also sue the driver for emotional injury. Even though the son was a spectator to the crash and not physically hurt, witnessing the horrific injury of his mother caused emotional damage. 

For this bystander claim to succeed, the son must prove that he has emotional trauma that directly results from watching his mother’s crash. Further, he must not only prove that he was on the road at the same time as his mom, but he was also close enough to clearly watch the event unfold and see the aftermath of her injuries.

Valid Bystander Liability Claims in Texas

 To file a bystander liability claim, you must fit the following criteria:

I. Close Relationship

Bystander Claims can only be pursued by those who had a close relationship with the person involved in the incident. In the earlier example, the son was able to file a bystander claim because the crash involved his biological mother. If a stranger had been driving behind the mother instead, that person would not be able to claim compensation. 

In Texas, “close relationships” are limited to the spouse, siblings, children, parents, and grandparents of the person involved in the incident. Children, according to this definition, only refers to natural or adopted children, not to step-sons or step-daughters. This means best friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, aunts, uncles, or cousins of the injured person cannot file a bystander claim. 

II. Proximity to the Accident

For bystander claims, the bystander must have been near the accident. This claim covers the emotional damage from witnessing the tragic event and its aftermath, not the emotional pain from learning of the death secondhand. 

If the son from the earlier example had been at home and learned of the crash after the fact, he would not have a valid claim. Although hearing this news would still feel devastating, seeing his mother and her injuries at the crash site adds a greater degree of trauma and pain. 

III. Emotional Trauma After the Accident

Finally, there must be evidence that the bystander is suffering from significant emotional trauma as a result of witnessing the incident. Emotional trauma can show itself in the form of social withdrawal, insomnia, intrusive thoughts, or mental health issues like PTSD and depression.

This emotional trauma must be a clear consequence of watching the tragic incident. For example, pretend the son from earlier develops depression and finds it impossible to go to work or hang out with friends after his mother’s incident. If he had no previous history of depression and is typically an active member of his community, this behavioral shift is easy to prove as the direct consequence of the tragedy.  

However, if the son had a documented history of depression, his emotional trauma could be viewed as the continuation of his previous difficulties in the eyes of the law. In this scenario, the son would still have a valid claim, but proving his emotional damage would just be a much more laborious process.

The Rules for Bystander Liability Claims Not Always Rigid

No matter what, a close relationship, proximity to the incident, and emotional trauma must be proven for a bystander liability claim to be valid. However, this criteria can be flexible to better reflect the special circumstances of a case.

In the 1985 case City of Austin v. Davis, Kenneth Davis was allowed to receive compensation for emotional damages even though he was not present at the time of the death of his son, Kenny. Kenny was hospitalized for a disorienting head injury and needed to be constantly restrained or medicated. During one of his daily visits to the hospital, Kenneth found his son’s room empty Earlier that day, the staff had neglected to restrain or medicate Kenny, so he was able to aimlessly wander the hospital. Kenneth and the staff searched for Kenny, until Kenneth found his son’s body at the base of an air shaft. Kenny had found his way into the air shaft, climbed to the top, then fell multiple stories to the bottom. 

The City of Austin argued against the use of the bystander liability claim because Kenneth was not in or around the air shaft when his son died. However, it was determined that the emotional damage Kenneth faced after discovering his son’s body and confirming his death was similar to the pain of watching the fall firsthand. For this reason, it was determined that the proximity criteria was still satisfied.

Legal Guidance

Navigating bystander liability claims can be extremely complex and laborious. This is why it is important to seek out guidance from a legal professional before pursuing a claim. A personal injury lawyer will be able to properly navigate intricate legal proceedings, advocate on your behalf, as well as help ensure you receive the psychological care you deserve.

Feltoon Law is a personal injury law firm in Austin, TX. We provide expert service to our clients with the upmost compassionate and integrity. Call (737) 281-9100 today for a free consultation. 

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