Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Handling Personal Injury Claims in the Seattle Area and Throughout Washington Since 1995

My name is Chris Thayer and I am a personal injury attorney practicing in downtown Seattle. I handle personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death claims throughout the greater Seattle area, including Issaquah, Mercer Island and Kirkland.

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Did You Witness a Loved One’s Accident?

Posted Friday, January 12, 2018 by Chris Thayer

Washington law permits a family member who is present when a loved one is physically injured in an accident to recover damages for bystander negligent infliction of emotional distress. A family member who was not present but arrives at the scene shortly after the accident may also be entitled to compensation. What if the family member already knows about the accident before he or she arrives on the scene?

Knowledge of a Loved One’s Accident

Case 1

When Shaila Haynes learned that her husband had been in a motorcycle accident, she “honestly didn’t know” what to expect. Randy Haynes and two friends were riding their motorcycles on Interstate 90, west of Ellensburg, when an erratic van driver forced Randy off the road. One of the other riders knew that Shaila was at a friend’s house and called the friend, who in turn told Shaila about the accident.

Shaila and her friend immediately went to the accident scene, arriving about 10 to 15 minutes after the phone call. The ambulance just beat them there. When Shaila arrived, her husband was still in his original location, although he had been turned over and placed onto a backboard. She noticed his crumpled motorcycle, damaged helmet, and the blood on his head. Randy did not respond when Shaila knelt beside him, took his hand, and spoke to him. He died soon after being taken to the hospital.

The trial court ruled that Shaila could not recover damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress because she did not “unwittingly” stumble upon the accident. A Washington appeals court disagreed, finding in March of 2017 that Shaila only had limited information of the accident, and that she arrived before there was a material change in Randy’s condition or location.

Case 2

A different Washington appeals court recently reviewed a case in which Trina Cortese learned of her 17-year-old son’s death before arriving at the scene of the car accident. He died of mechanical asphyxiation after the pickup truck he was a passenger in overturned. One of the teen’s friends called Trina to tell her about the accident. Then the pickup driver’s father came to the house to tell Trina that her son had not survived the accident.

Trina and her husband arrived at the scene about 20 minutes after the accident. Emergency personnel had already blocked off the area, and their son’s body was lying on the side of the road and covered by a sheet. Unlike in Shaila’s case, the appeals court here found that there had been a material change in the accident scene. The court also determined that Trina’s knowledge of the accident was not limited and that she could not recover damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Negligent infliction of emotional distress is a fact-specific claim, and it can be difficult for plaintiffs to prevail. An experienced personal injury attorney can evaluate the facts of your case and help you determine how to proceed.

Contact Us Today

Contact one of our personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation if you witnessed a loved one’s accident. You might be entitled to damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Our experienced attorneys will help determine whether you have a viable claim and help recover the compensation that you deserve.