Negligent infliction of emotional distress is a cause of action available when a family member is at the scene of their loved one’s accident at the time of the accident or shortly thereafter and witnesses their injuries at the scene before there is a material change in the circumstances. In March, Division Three of the Washington Court of Appeals found that a woman could recover damages on a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, despite knowing about the accident prior to arriving on the scene. Recently, Division One reviewed a case in which a mother knew her son had been killed in the accident before she arrived on the scene.
The plaintiff’s 17-year-old son died from mechanical asphyxiation as a passenger in an automobile accident. The plaintiff lived near the scene of the accident. One of her son’s friends stopped by her home and told her to call her son because there had been an accident. The plaintiff testified that she received no answer when she tried to call. The driver’s father subsequently came to the plaintiff’s house and informed her there had been an accident, and her son had not survived. The plaintiff and her husband then drove to the accident scene.
They arrived at the scene about 20 minutes after the accident. The area was surrounded by emergency vehicles, and the scene was blocked off. The plaintiff’s son was lying on the side of the road, covered by a sheet.