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Direct Link to Physical Injury Not Needed to Prove Emotional Distress
Description Iowa high court held that in a case in which a driver suffered physical injury and later emotional trauma from a traffic accident, expert testimony was needed to show emotional distress, but for there to be recovery there does not need to be a direct link between the physical injury suffered and the emotional distress.
Topic Torts
Key Words Emotional Distress; Physical Injury
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Roling, the driver of a semi-truck, suffered broken ribs and other injuries when a car crossed the center line and ran into his truck. The two occupants of the car were both killed. Roling was depressed by the accident and kept having flashbacks to seeing the mangled bodies. He saw a psychologist for two years. He sued the estates of the deceased for causing the accident for his physical injury and emotional distress. The jury awarded him $151,186, but the judge overturned the verdict, holding that he did not show there was a relationship between his physical injuries and the emotional distress, nor did he have expert testimony to prove his physical injuries. Roling appealed.
Decision Reversed. In such a case, the plaintiff does not have to have an expert witness testify as to the fact of his physical injuries; the record on that was clear. In cases claiming emotional distress, expert testimony at trial is required. Damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress are usually denied unless accompanied by some physical injury. Testimony of the psychologist that the accident caused depression and other mental problems was sufficient to establish a causal connection between the negligence of the other party and Roling's emotional injuries. The emotional distress recovery is not for observing the horrifying aftermath of the accident, but for the later emotional condition caused by the accident.
Citation Roling v. Daily, 596 N.W.2d 72 (Sup. Ct., Iowa, 1999)

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