When Can You Recover Emotional Distress Damages In A Negligence Case?

Recovery of damages for emotional distress or mental anguish in motor vehicle accident, motorcycle crash, dog bite, defective product, or negligence cases is not automatic.  The right to seek emotional distress damages depends first on whether you’ve suffered a physical injury as a result of the negligence.  If you have, then you always have an opportunity to claim money for emotional distress.  But the analysis is a little more complicated when you have a negligence case that does not involve a physical injury to you.

Iowa’s courts have recognized an exception to the physical injury requirement rule when the nature of the relationship between the parties is such that there arises a duty to exercise ordinary care to avoid causing emotional harm.  Courts evaluate whether the relationship was so coupled with matters of mental concern or solicitude, or with the sensibilities of the party to whom the duty is owed, that a breach of that duty will necessarily or reasonably result in mental anguish or suffering, and it should be known to the parties from the nature of the obligation that such suffering will result from its breach.

There must be both a close nexus to the action at issue and extremely emotional circumstances to permit the recovery of emotional distress damages in a negligence case that does not involve physical injuries.  The emotional distress must naturally ensue from the negligence.  So far Iowa has permitted emotional distress damages without physical injury in medical malpractice actions, in the performance of a funeral contract, in the negligent delivery of a telegram announcing the death of a close relative, and in legal malpractice actions involving immigration attorneys who engage in illegitimate attempts to gain U.S. residency for their clients.


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