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October 7, 2015 |


The Supreme Court of Indiana recently released a decision in the case of Clifton v. McCormack, reversing the Indiana Court of Appeals’ ruling in favor of the plaintiff, who had sued the defendant for negligent infliction of emotional distress after the defendant negligently caused an auto accident that killed the plaintiff’s son.

The father’s lawsuit was based on the bystander rule, a continuously evolving legal doctrine that allows a plaintiff to recover damages from a negligent defendant for harms not directly caused by the defendant’s negligence, but instead by the plaintiff’s close proximity to the accident and relationship with the party that was injured or killed.

The Plaintiff Hears of an Accident on the News and Fears His Son is the Victim

The plaintiff and his 54-year-old son lived together and had a close relationship. On August 3, 2012, the plaintiff’s son left their home on his moped to travel to Indianapolis. Shortly after his son left, the plaintiff noticed a story on the TV news that a moped had been struck by a car and the rider was seriously injured.

Based on the details and location of the accident, the plaintiff feared that the victim was his son and immediately drove to the accident scene to see what had happened. When he arrived at the accident scene, the plaintiff noticed his son’s moped was lying wrecked in the road and saw a body covered by a white sheet on the sidewalk. Speaking to an officer at the scene, the plaintiff learned that the victim was his son and that he had not survived. The plaintiff was devastated by the news and suffered physical and psychological symptoms as a result.

The Plaintiff’s Suit Gets Rejected by Indiana Courts

The plaintiff attempted to sue the defendant for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) based on the bystander rule, a legal theory in Indiana and Illinois that allows plaintiffs with a close relationship to an accident victim to sue the at-fault party for damages caused to the plaintiff based on their close proximity to the accident.

The court that initially addressed the case ruled in favor of the defendant, finding that the standards for liability under the bystander rule were not met in this case. The ruling was eventually appealed to the Supreme Court of Indiana, who agreed that the plaintiff’s claim did not meet the requirements for liability under Indiana’s bystander rule. As a result of this latest decision, the plaintiff will not receive compensation for his claim.

The Bystander Rule in Illinois

To be awarded damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress after an Illinois auto accident under the bystander rule, a plaintiff must prove three things in addition to the defendant’s negligence in causing the accident. First, a plaintiff must show that he or she was in the zone of physical danger. Next, a plaintiff must show that he or she reasonably feared for his or her own safety because of the defendant’s negligence. Finally, a plaintiff must demonstrate that he or she suffered a physical injury or illness as a result of the emotional distress caused by the defendant’s negligence. A qualified Illinois personal injury attorney can advise potential clients if they may have a claim for damages under the bystander rule.

Do You Have a Claim for Damages?

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an Illinois accident, the experienced Chicago personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at the Cavanagh Sorich Law Group can advise you on any possible claims that may be brought in your case. Our knowledgeable lawyers assist clients with standard negligence claims, as well as other claims such as those made for negligent infliction of emotional distress under the bystander rule. We work on a contingency basis for all our clients, meaning we never charge a fee unless you receive compensation. We offer superior service and an uncommon approach to waging and winning litigation. At Cavanagh Sorich Law Group, we represent clients in most personal injury and wrongful death cases.

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