Indiana Supreme Court Permits Parents’ Emotional Distress Claim

In a recent opinion, the Indiana Supreme Court recently carved out an exception to the state’s longstanding negligent infliction of emotional distress rule. The change allows the parents of children who experienced sexual abuse by a caretaker to pursue emotional distress damages. According to the record, a mother filed a lawsuit against a school district after learning that an instructional assistant was abusing the woman’s profoundly disabled daughter. The woman filed a civil lawsuit alleging that she experienced emotional distress after the discovery. A lower court dismissed the claim based on the state’s archaic law that limits these damages to those who witness the injury or death of a loved one. While an appeals court permitted the economic damages to claim, they refused to expand the state’s law to allow the emotional distress claim.

Historically, the bystander rule for negligent infliction of emotional distress allowed recovery to those who experienced distress from witnessing a close family member’s sudden and unexpected death by the at-fault party. The Court loosened the rules in 2000, allowing lawsuits if a person observed the injury or death of family or its “gruesome aftermath.”

In this groundbreaking Indiana case, the Court held that the school owed a duty of care to the woman as a parent of a child at their school. The assistant confessed and pleaded guilty; however, the mother did not discover the abuse until after the confession. At which point, the mother suffered emotional distress, which included bouts of anger and the inability to control her emotions.

The Court reasoned that the state’s longstanding rule did not meet the reasonable expectations of many individuals who experience the harrowing consequences of child abuse. Thus, the Court expanded the rule finding that when a caretaker assumes responsibility for a child and owes a duty of care to the child’s parent or guardian, the parent or guardian may proceed with an emotional distress claim. However, the parent or guardian must establish with “irrefutable certainty” that the caretaker committed sexual abuse against the child and that abuse severely impacted the parent’s emotional health.

In this case, the Court found that the mother satisfied all elements of the new exception to the bystander rule. They further explained that the lower Court’s decision to dismiss the case was improper. Ultimately, they remanded the case for further proceedings.

Have You Suffered Emotional Distress Because of Another’s Negligence?

If you or someone you love has experienced emotional distress or other injuries because of another’s negligence, contact Padove Law for assistance. Attorney Padove has spent the last 40 years successfully representing and advocating for Indiana injury victims. As the legal landscape continues to ebb and flow, Attorney Padove consistently relies on his in-depth knowledge of complex personal injury and wrongful death laws to obtain successful results for his clients. He represents clients in all types of accident claims involving Indiana motor vehicle accidents, defective products, dog bites, medical malpractice, nursing home and school abuse, and vehicular accidents. Through his diligent representation, he has secured significant compensation for his clients. Contact Padove Law at 877-446-5294 to schedule a free initial consultation.


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