Tennessee Court Finds No Claim of Emotional Distress Exists for Property Damage

When a plaintiff is injured as a result of a defendant’s actions, many different types of damages can be claimed. A plaintiff may seek reimbursement for medical expenses or lost wages, or the value of property destroyed or damaged. In certain situations, plaintiffs may also recover for the emotional distress that they suffered as a result of their accident or injury. While emotional distress damages are typically allowed when a personal injury has occurred, a recent Tennessee Court held that they were not allowed as a result of property damage.

In the case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, R.L. alleged that he owned a business and gift shop near Highway 31W in Tennessee. In 2013, G.L. was driving his vehicle on 31W when he rear-ended another car and ran off the highway and into R.L.’s business. He hit a gas meter on the building and started a fire that completely destroyed the business. R.L. was not at the business at the time, but he arrived shortly afterward. G.L. died at the scene of the accident.

Less than a year later, R.L. sued G.L.’s estate for negligent infliction of emotional distress and reckless infliction of emotional distress, arguing that the fire, his observation of the fire, and his narrow escape from further harm had caused him severe mental and emotional injuries, including a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. R.L. sought damages from G.L.’s estate as a result of these emotional injuries. In response, G.L.’s estate moved to dismiss the complaints, arguing that Tennessee law did not allow claims of emotional distress based on property damage. The trial court agreed and dismissed the claims. R.L. filed an appeal.

On appeal, R.L. argued that he should have been able to bring his claim for emotional distress because he experienced distress resulting from the complete destruction of his property. The Tennessee Court of Appeals noted that a claim of negligent emotional distress requires that a plaintiff prove all of the elements of a negligence claim, including duty, breach, causation, and damages. In a 2006 case before the Tennessee Supreme Court, the court held that while negligent infliction of emotional distress can arise in a wide variety of circumstances, there generally is no recovery for emotional distress when a plaintiff has only suffered an injury to property. Instead, in order for emotional distress damages to arise, a plaintiff must show that the property damage was a result of fraud or malice. The Tennessee Court of Appeals further noted that this appeared to be the general principle in many states, including Texas and California. Here, since R.L.’s only damages were property damage, for he was not personally injured by the accident or fire, the Court of Appeals held that R.L. could not seek relief for negligent or reckless infliction of emotional distress because there was no evidence of fraud or malice. Accordingly, the appeals court affirmed the lower court.

Emotional damages can be an important part of any plaintiff’s personal injury claim, since they allow plaintiffs to recover for both past medical expenses and emotional losses, as well as future expenses and losses that are likely to arise (such as ongoing therapy needs). However, this case makes clear that such damages can only be requested when an injury is not limited to property damage.  Tennessee personal injury attorney Eric Beasley is an experienced trial lawyer and advocate who can help you decide whether to seek damages for emotional distress in your case, or if it is better for you to focus on other losses you have experienced. For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Courts Permit Daughter To Bring Wrongful Death Claim, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, January 25, 2017.

Determining Damages in Tennessee When the Jury’s Verdict Exceeds The Amount Requested, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, November 2, 2016.

Sixth Circuit Denies Negligence Claim For Lack of Physical Injury, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, September 21, 2016.