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Can You Recover Emotional Distress Damages for a Wrongful Death?

If you lost a spouse, parent or child due to the negligent or deliberate conduct of another person, you may sue that person for wrongful death, essentially standing the shoes of the decedent. Tennessee formerly limited the damages recoverable to the losses sustained by the deceased person, such as medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, lost wages and mental and physical pain and suffering between the time of injury and death.

The wrongful death law has since been amended to include damages for the financial and emotional losses suffered by surviving family members. These include being deprived of the decedent’s earning capacity and other economic worth. It also includes loss of the decedent’s love, society and companionship — also known as loss of consortium.

While survivors may also recover for their claimed emotional trauma, these damages are limited based on the circumstances of the death and may not fully address the impact of the loss. However, there are two other causes of action offering the possibility of winning sizable compensation for pain and suffering: negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).

Negligent infliction of emotional distress

To recover for NIED, you must prove that you suffered a serious or severe emotional injury that was foreseeable by the defendant whose conduct led to the death. An example is when you witnessed a close family member killed in a car accident. But to recover damages, you must also show that the defendant was aware that you were a witness and thus would be subjected to mental trauma.

Damages for NIED may be enhanced if you observed that the decedent lingered and suffered after the accident and that the defendant took no reasonable steps to give aid. Proof of the emotional distress you suffered requires expert testimony, such as that of a treating psychiatrist and an accident reconstruction specialist.

Intentional infliction of emotional distress

To prove a case for IIED, you must show that serious mental injury resulted from intentional or reckless conduct so outrageous that it is not tolerated by civilized society.

Criminal actions that cause death clearly fall into this definition. But conduct is also reckless when the defendant knowingly makes a gross departure from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise in the circumstances. For instance, a funeral home may be liable to the family of a decedent whose body it treats in a disrespectful or inappropriate manner. IIED cases are more difficult to prove but may result in higher recoveries, including punitive damages where appropriate.

Wrongful death and survivor claims are important remedies for families seeking to cope with the long-term effects of the tragic loss of a loved one. The wrongful death attorneys at Massengill, Caldwell & Coughlin, P.C. in Bristol are sensitive to your needs during these trying circumstances and will work tirelessly to obtain the most favorable compensation possible. For a free initial consultation, call us today at 423-797-6022 or contact us online.

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