$4.5M Emotional Distress Damage Award to Accident Bystanders Upheld

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Emotional Distress Damage Award Defective Products

$4.5M Emotional Distress Damage Award to Accident Bystanders Upheld

A Pennsylvania appeals court recently upheld a $4.5 million jury award to bystanders of a firefighting effort gone terribly wrong in which a defective fire hose came loose and killed a young child – as her mother watched in horror.
An unusually tragic event
According to news reports, a fire broke out in a Pennsylvania neighborhood and two local families gathered to watch firefighters attempt to control the blaze. However, as they were watching, the unthinkable happened. A defective fire hose came loose from a nozzle and the water pressure caused the hose to whip around frantically. In doing so, it injured a 10 year-old child from one family and killed a young girl whose mother was also injured from the second family.
The lawsuit
The mother suffered severe emotional distress by watching her daughter die in front of her and sued the hose manufacturer for strict product liability. A lower court ruled in her favor, but the manufacturer appealed. In upholding the $4.5 million recovery, the appeals court reasoned that “a bystander plaintiff who witnesses injury to a close relative can recover emotional distress damages when the injured person’s underlying cause of action is based on strict products liability.”
What is an emotional distress claim?
An emotional distress claim involves someone’s pain and suffering, anxiety, distress, anguish, etc. It falls under the category of non-economic damages which consists of those types of damages that are not economically based and must be determined on a case by case basis (as opposed to economic damages, which consist of damages that are economically based and can be itemized such as lost wages and medical bills).
There are two types of emotional distress claims for which victims can be compensated – negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Each has distinct requirements that must be met and some states limit the amount of recovery. An experienced product liability attorney can determine what types of damages might be relevant to your situation.

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