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Can a Bystander Sue for Injury or Emotional Distress in Pennsylvania?

Posted on August 23, 2023

In Pennsylvania, bystanders have the legal right to sue for injury or emotional distress under specific circumstances. 

Understanding Negligence in Pennsylvania

Before delving into bystander claims, it is essential to understand the concept of negligence, as it forms the basis of personal injury cases. In Pennsylvania, negligence involves proving that the defendant (at-fault party) owed the plaintiff (injury victim) a duty of care, breached that duty, and caused harm as a result of the breach.

Bystander Claims for Emotional Distress

Pennsylvania recognizes the right of bystanders to sue for emotional distress. However, to succeed in such a claim, a bystander generally needs to establish the following elements:

  • Close Relationship: The bystander must have a close relationship with the victim of the accident. This typically involves being a family member, spouse, or having a similarly intimate connection.
  • Direct Witness: The bystander must have directly witnessed to the accident or its immediate aftermath. In legal terms, this is often referred to as being in the “zone of danger.”
  • Psychological Impact: The bystander must demonstrate that witnessing the accident caused severe emotional distress, leading to a tangible psychological injury.

Bystander Claims for Physical Injury

While emotional distress claims are more common, Pennsylvania also permits bystanders to sue for physical injuries under certain conditions. To succeed, a bystander typically needs to demonstrate the following:

  • Close Relationship: As with emotional distress claims, a close relationship with the accident victim is crucial.
  • Zone of Danger: The bystander must have been in the zone of danger, meaning they were at risk of physical harm themselves due to the defendant’s negligence.
  • Causation: The bystander must prove that their physical injuries were a direct result of the defendant’s negligent actions.

Proving these elements can be complex, and whether a bystander can recover compensation from the negligent party will often vary case by case.

Types of Compensation Available In Bystander Claims

Types of Compensation Available in Philadelphia Bystander Claims

When bystanders pursue claims for injuries or emotional distress resulting from witnessing an accident, they may be eligible for various types of compensation, such as: 

Medical Expenses

Compensation for hospital bills, doctor’s visits, surgery, medication, rehabilitation, and any other necessary medical treatments.

Lost Wages

If you must miss work to recover, you may be entitled to compensation for lost wages and diminished future earning capacity if your injuries are expected to impact your ability to work in the future.

Pain and Suffering

Compensation may also be awarded for the physical pain and discomfort.  

Emotional Distress

If you suffer severe emotional distress due to witnessing a traumatic event, you may be able to recover compensation for the psychological impact (e.g., PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc.) and related losses (e.g., counseling or therapy).

Loss of Consortium

In cases where a bystander’s close relationship with the victim is severely affected, they may be eligible for compensation for the loss of consortium. This refers to the loss of companionship, intimacy, and support due to the injuries or death of the victim.

Punitive Damages

In rare cases involving extreme negligence or intentional harm, the court may award punitive damages. These are designed to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar behavior in the future. Pennsylvania has specific rules regarding when punitive damages can be granted.

If you or someone you know is a bystander who has suffered harm due to another party’s negligence, speak to a trusted Philadelphia personal injury lawyer. They can assess the viability of your case and pursue the compensation you deserve.