Skip to main content

Exit WCAG Theme

Switch to Non-ADA Website

Accessibility Options

Select Text Sizes

Select Text Color

Website Accessibility Information Close Options
Close Menu
Fox Farley Willis & Burnette Attorneys At Law
  • Hablamos Español

Can a Bystander Recover Emotional Damages for Witnessing an Accident?


Certainly, we suffer traumatic pain and suffering, physical and emotional, when we are in an accident. But what about when someone we love is in an accident? Or when we witness someone we love being injured? On the one hand, we are not directly involved in the accident. But surely, seeing or experiencing this kind of thing can be traumatizing.

Can you recover purely emotional damages that you sustain as a result of being a bystander—that is, witnessing someone else get injured? The answer is yes, although there are requirements to make such a showing in court.

Why Courts are Suspect

As you may imagine, courts have been very careful about allowing people to recover damages for purely mental or emotional injuries because of how easy it is to fake these kinds of injuries. You can’t fake a scan, an X-ray, or some other diagnostic test that shows a physical injury. But courts know that you can in fact fake emotional trauma.

Additionally, courts want to limit damages in catastrophic injuries. Can you imagine if a pedestrian was hit by a car, and 100 people saw it happen, and all of them could recover damages? Of course, that’s a traumatic and horrific event to witness. Should all 100 people who saw it be able to recover damages because they are suffering nightmares, PTSD, or other emotional injuries?

When Can Bystanders Get Damages?

Courts in Tennessee have said that bystanders who witness an accident can only get damages for seeing an accident happen if they knew the injured party or were closely related to the party that was injured. Plaintiffs seeking these kinds of damages also need to show that they were immediately affected by the accident that caused the injury. Usually, this involves a showing that the bystander claiming damages could perceive the accident or injury with their senses and that the injury was serious or fatal.

Often courts will ask whether a reasonable person would have difficulty coping with the injury to the person they witnessed. For example, any reasonable person would be traumatized seeing a child, spouse or parent injured and thus, the bystander would be able to make out a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress.

However, bystanders do not need to witness a single event. They can make claims for witnessing injuries to family or relatives that occur over long periods of time, like seeing someone get abused repeatedly over time.


Like any personal injury case, the emotional trauma must be foreseeable, and must actually be caused by the traumatic event. Usually this is not difficult to prove, but it certainly leaves the door open for defendants to argue that the emotional distress could be caused by other things, besides witnessing the accident.

Call the Clinton personal injury attorneys at Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, to help you recover damages for any injury you’ve sustained in an accident.


Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Our Offices

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

No content on this site may be reused in any fashion without written permission.

Skip footer and go back to main navigation