What is Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress?

When someone suffers emotional injury due to another person’s negligence, the injured party may have a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. If you have sustained this kind of harm, it’s important to understand your rights and the other party’s potential liability. The first step is to ask: What is negligent infliction of emotional distress?

Suing for Emotional Distress

In New York, someone who suffers emotional distress due to another’s conduct may have a basis to file suit against the guilty party.

There are two types of emotional distress claims:

  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress, and
  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress

As the names imply, the key difference between the two types of claims is whether the inflicting party intended to cause the victim emotional distress.

Establishing a Claim for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

Under New York law, the tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress has four elements:

  • Breach of a duty owed to the plaintiff, which breach either unreasonably endangered the plaintiff’s physical safety or caused the plaintiff to fear for their physical safety;
  • extreme and outrageous conduct;
  • a causal connection between the conduct and the injury; and
  • severe emotional distress.

Someone who has been emotionally injured can pursue a negligent infliction claim by either showing that:

  • The liable party owed them a duty of care, or
  • They were in the “zone of danger” when their immediate loved ones died.

Depending on your theory or recovery (why you believe you have a claim), you will have to establish specific elements.


Duty of Care

  • Owed a Duty—You were injured by someone who owed you a duty of care, which means that the negligent party had a responsibility to behave in a certain manner around you. For instance, other drivers have a duty to operate their vehicles safely when traveling on the road with other motorists. Likewise, doctors have a duty to provide competent medical services to their patients.


  • Breach of Duty—As the injured party, you would also have to be able to show that the negligent party breached their duty of care, meaning that their behavior demonstrated a lapse in the duty you were owed.

  • Unreasonably Endangered—you would then need to show that the breach unreasonably endangered you or placed you in fear of your safety.

  • Egregious Conduct—you would also have to show that the culpable party’s conduct was so extreme and outrageous that it constituted more than negligence.

  • Injured by the Negligence—you would also establish that you suffered severe emotional distress because of the responsible party’s behavior.

Zone of Danger

Zone of danger claims are based on immediate family members being allowed to sue for emotional distress caused by being present when their loved one was seriously injured or killed if they were in close enough proximity that they could have been injured as well.

To establish a claim under the zone of danger theory of recovery, you would have to show:

  • Unreasonable Exposure—the responsible party unreasonably exposed you and your immediate family member to physical harm. The defendant’s negligent conduct created an unreasonable risk of physical harm to you.


  • Witness—That you witnessed your immediate family member being seriously injured or dying contemporaneous to the accident. The law has traditionally limited “immediate family” to the victim’s father, son, daughter, mother, brother, or sister. However, last year the court of appeals expanded the definition to include grandparents.

  • Harm—That you suffered emotional injury as a direct result of witnessing your immediate family member’s injury or death.

Establishing a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim can be complicated, and it’s important to present the right evidence to establish the elements of your claim. Therefore, you will want to work with an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you assess and present your case. You also want to choose a lawyer who has experience litigating these types of claims.

At Bonina & Bonina, we are dedicated personal injury attorneys who know how to fight for you. We have obtained a 1.5-million-dollar verdict in a case where the damages were purely emotional distress. Let us put our experience to work for you.


Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one have been injured due to a personal injury accident, you should schedule a free consultation with the experienced attorneys at Bonina & Bonina, PC. Call us at 1888-MEDLAW1 or contact us online for a free consultation.

We have decades of experience helping clients injured by motor-vehicle-related negligence, and we can explain your options and help you decide what actions you should take. At Bonina & Bonina, PC, we come to work every day believing that there should be equal justice for all. Se Habla espaňol. Home and hospital visits are available.