“Bystander” Emotional Distress Damages in Virginia – a High Bar

“Bystander” Emotional Distress Damages in Virginia – a High Bar

Written by Henry U. Moore, Esq. Edited by Bill Pfund, Esq. It is not an uncommon scenario in general liability cases for multiple plaintiffs to be injured in one accident – this is especially common in motor vehicle cases. Under Virginia law, each injured party has their own separate cause of action for their own physical injuries and emotional distress resulting from those injuries. However, the lines can become blurred between causes of action when a plaintiff makes a claim that they suffered emotional distress damages from witnessing the injuries to another party. For instance, this scenario can arise in a motor vehicle accident where more than one person in the same car is injured, and one plaintiff claims he suffered emotional distress from witnessing the injury or death of his fellow passenger. These are commonly referred to as negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) or “bystander” claims, and they are very hard to establish under Virginia law. Virginia is in the minority of states that do not allow recovery for solely emotional distress experienced by family members or bystanders in close proximity to the injury or death of another – even if that ‘bystander” is himself involved or injured in the accident. Rather, a plaintiff must show that they suffered accompanying physical injury resulting from the emotional disturbance or distress. In Hughes v. Moore, 214 Va. 27 (1973) the Virginia Supreme Court laid out this rule for bystander claims that is still in force in the Commonwealth. There, a driver ran his car off the road, struck a vehicle parked in the plaintiff’s driveway, and crashed into the plaintiff’s house. Although...
Policy Renewal Pitfalls

Policy Renewal Pitfalls

The Bureau of Insurance strongly encourages insurers and other licensees to be flexible and take into consideration the hardships and constraints many individuals and businesses are experiencing during this unprecedented public health emergency. For this reason, the Bureau encourages those it regulates to consider taking the following actions, consistent with prudent insurance practices: Insurers should consider relaxing due dates for premium payments, extending grace periods, waiving late fees and penalties, and allowing payment plans for premium payments to otherwise avoid a lapse in coverage. Insurers should also consider cancellation or non-renewal of policies only after exhausting all other reasonable efforts to work with policyholders to continue coverage. (Bureau of Insurance bulletin, March 27, 2020) The Bureau of Insurance (BOI) is not mandating that insurers provide flexibility with this statement, merely that insurers “should consider” not canceling policies if insureds have COVID-19 related issues that hamper premium payments.  However, some insureds are taking advantage of the extensions of insurers and using this to shop rates or just take a break from premium payments. If insureds do not renew a policy, an insurer does not have to jump through all of the cancellation hoops contained in title 38.2 of the Code of Virginia.  If an insured does not respond to an offer to renew, the policy lapses and the insured has no coverage as of the timeframe contained in the policy. Almost if not every insurer initially conditions renewal on receipt of premium when the insurer makes its first offer of renewal.  This condition on receipt overrides any claims that simply mailing the premium prior to the due date suffices to renew the policy.  By...

Update: Some Virginia Courts to Resume Jury Trials this Month

According to the August 31, 2020 edition of Virginia Lawyers Weekly, the following courts have had their plans approved for the resumption of jury trials beginning in September: Henrico Circuit Court Norfolk Circuit Court Stafford Circuit Court Alleghany Circuit Court The plans for these courts are posted on the home web page of Virginia’s Judicial System linked here. Additional information is included on the Virginia Judicial System web page, including a “court by court” listing of Notices, Orders, Announcements, etc. related to individual courts.  This information can be found here....

“Bystander” Emotional Distress Damages in Virginia – a High Bar

Written by Henry U. Moore, Esq. Edited by Bill Pfund, Esq. It is not an uncommon scenario in general liability cases for multiple plaintiffs to be injured in one accident – this is especially common in motor vehicle cases. Under Virginia law, each injured party has their own separate cause of action for their own physical injuries and emotional distress resulting from those injuries. However, the lines can become blurred between causes of action when a plaintiff makes a claim that they suffered emotional distress damages from witnessing the injuries to another party. For instance, this scenario can arise in a motor vehicle accident where more than one person in the same car is injured, and one plaintiff claims he suffered emotional distress from witnessing the injury or death of his fellow passenger. These are commonly referred to as negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) or “bystander” claims, and they are very hard to establish under Virginia law. Virginia is in the minority of states that do not allow recovery for solely emotional distress experienced by family members or bystanders in close proximity to the injury or death of another – even if that ‘bystander” is himself involved or injured in the accident. Rather, a plaintiff must show that they suffered accompanying physical injury resulting from the emotional disturbance or distress. In Hughes v. Moore, 214 Va. 27 (1973) the Virginia Supreme Court laid out this rule for bystander claims that is still in force in the Commonwealth. There, a driver ran his car off the road, struck a vehicle parked in the plaintiff’s driveway, and crashed into the...