Who Can Sue for Emotional Distress? Recovering Emotional Damages In Indiana

Negligent infliction of emotional distress is not a stand-alone tort in Indiana.

Generally, a person may seek damages for emotional distress resulting from the negligence of another under two circumstances: (1) where the person has witnessed or has come to the scene soon thereafter the death or severe injury of certain classes of relatives (i.e. the bystander rule) or (2) where the person suffered a direct impact (i.e. modified impact rule).

Emotional Distress Law Updates

In December 2021, a new category was added to emotional distress law: A parent or guardian who discovers with irrefutable certainty that a caretaker sexually abused their child, and the abuse severely impacted the parent or guardian’s emotional health.

The new rule was added after there was a case involving a profoundly disabled child who was sexually assaulted by an instructor responsible for her care at her school. The case reached the Indiana Supreme Court, where it was decided in a 3-2 decision that “the extraordinary circumstances here warrant a proper remedy.” 

In January 2022, Indiana expanded the proximity requirement. The case that led to this expansion involved a home fire caused by a propane explosion. Ceres Solutions Cooperative refilled a propane tank but did not check for leaks before leaving the home. 

At approximately 2:30 a.m., Eric Bradley turned on a lamp, and the house erupted into flames. The fire severely injured Eric and his mom, Kathy, died. Kenneth Bradley, Kathy’s husband, arrived on the scene at 5:24 a.m. 

Six months after this event, Kenneth amended his claim to sue for emotional distress. Negligent infliction of emotional distress in Indiana occurs when a plaintiff is involved in a gruesome or distressing event caused by another party’s negligence. 

In Indiana, the bystander rule states that a claimant must actually witness a portion of the injury-producing event or come to the scene soon thereafter. But Kenneth didn’t actually witness the explosion, only the aftermath. 

The court found that, “…the explosion and fire are not separate injury-producing events, and that the injury-producing event was ongoing when Bradley arrived.” As a result, he did meet one of the key requirements for his case. 

Before these additional categories, a case was immediately thrown out or not considered serious if it didn’t fit the original three circumstances. 

Still, there are limitations to who can file emotional distress claims. Consider talking to a personal injury attorney to ensure you are eligible to file.

Can I Sue for Emotional Distress?

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress in Indiana

In the past, a person could only file a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress if they qualified under the bystander rule or the modified impact rule.

The modern version of negligent infliction of emotional distress no longer requires physical contact before someone can sue. 

How Can You Prove a Claim of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IED) occurs when a defendant:

  1. Engages in extreme and outrageous conduct that
  2. Intentionally or recklessly
  3. Causes
  4. Severe emotional distress to another

The most difficult part of an IED case is proving that the defendant’s behavior was outrageous. 

Simple threats and insults will usually not be enough to warrant a claim. A person is expected to withstand a certain level of hurt feelings and rude behavior. To be considered outrageous, the average person hearing what happened would be expected to exclaim, “That’s outrageous.” 

If the person broke the law while causing you emotional distress, their behavior is more likely to be considered outrageous.

Additionally, severe emotional distress is considered to be any amount of emotional distress that a person would not normally be able to endure. A reaction to such distress would look like grief, shame, humiliation, worry, anger, fright, or embarrassment. The degree of the stress will be considered, but it does not need to be so intense that you cannot continue work or have normal social interactions.

How Does the Court Measure the Amount of Emotional Distress In a Claim?

The courts will determine the amount of distress the plaintiff endured based on how they were impacted and what they believe would be the appropriate level of emotional damage. 

Courts will then weigh this against existing precedence or any other similar past case if there are any. 

If physical attacks were made on the plaintiff, those would also be considered. However, Indiana’s modified impact rule means the plaintiff does not necessarily need to have been directly impacted to file an emotional distress claim. 

What Emotional Damages Can Be Awarded in an Emotional Distress Lawsuit? 

If you feel that someone has committed outrageous acts against you which caused you to suffer severe emotional distress, you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible to identify if you can sue for emotional distress.

The damages that can be awarded for civil lawsuits for emotional distress can be complicated.  Being able to show a court that you have lost time from work, spent money on therapists, or that you are not able to continue life as you once did will help quantify the appropriate damages that you should receive.

Examples of Lawsuits for Emotional Distress

There are many examples of emotional distress cases. Here are two to demonstrate a case that was won and another that was lost. 

Proving Severe Emotional Distress | Kloepfel v. Bokor

In this case, Joseph Bokor ignored a court order to stay away from Judy Kloepfel. The two were roommates for nearly a decade, but when Kloepfel moved out, she filed a restraining order a month later.

For years, Bokor continued to violate the no-contact order. He called her home 640 times, her workplace 100 times, and the homes of men she knew numerous times as well. He continued to stalk her and threaten her and anyone she dated. As a result, he was convicted of several misdemeanors and a felony.

Then, two years after filing the restraining order, Kloepfel filed a suit alleging intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. 

The court found that Bokor’s behavior severely impacted Kloepfel’s ability to maintain a normal dating relationship. Also, even though she didn’t seek medical care or therapy, she showed physical symptoms of distress. Kloepfel was ultimately awarded $60,000. 

Outrageous Behavior Is Difficult to Prove | Kindred v. National College of Bus. and Tech., Inc. 

This case is an excellent example that the bar is set high for proving outrageous conduct in intentional infliction of emotional distress cases. 

In 2010, Mary Kindred was enrolled at National College, but her enrollment was canceled after she attended classes for one week during the fall semester. She wasn’t in compliance with a new school policy requiring an official copy of a high school transcript or equivalency certificate. 

Kindred was advised to update her student file by obtaining a copy of her GED certificate two weeks before the fall term. She thought the school was responsible for requesting the GED transcript from the Memphis Board of Education, so instead of providing an official copy, she presented her GED diploma card. 

The school claimed they gave her a deadline to submit the official copy, but Kindred denied she was told it was her responsibility. 

She felt their decision was arbitrary and that she’d no longer have the chance to pursue her degree. However, she decided to enroll again for the spring semester and was informed she couldn’t because of an outstanding balance of $521 for the textbooks she’d purchased in the fall. Kindred paid the balance and continued taking classes for two more semesters. Then, she received a failing grade, which she unsuccessfully challenged.

Kindred alleged that the pain and distress caused by the “degrading termination” of her first enrollment had been what instigated her suffering. She also claimed that this caused her to abandon her educational goals entirely. Ultimately, the courts conceded that, while she was understandably unhappy, the cancellation of her schedule did not sufficiently rise to the level of outrageous behavior to allow for recovery under IIED law.

Working With Tuley Law Office: What Is My Case Worth?

If you’re suing for emotional distress in Indiana, your case’s value depends on various factors. The severity of emotional distress, who the responsible party is, and the emotional damage compensation you deserve will all play a role in the benefits you may ultimately receive.

Partnering with our attorneys at Tuley Law Office will allow you to focus on your recovery while we focus on recovering the amount of compensation you deserve for your troubles.

Fill out our contact form or call (812) 625-2149 to reach one of our Evansville personal injury lawyers and learn more about the emotional distress compensation you may be eligible for.