Bystander claims for mental anguish in Texas

Texas recognizes the right of bystanders to recover damages for mental anguish caused by witnessing an accident, with the following limitations: the bystander must be closely related to the victim (such as his sibling, parent or child), and the victim must have been killed or severely injured. 

In Texas, “a claim for negligent infliction of mental anguish that is not based upon the wrongful death statute requires that the plaintiff prove that he or she was, among other things, located at or near the scene of the accident, and that the mental anguish resulted from a direct emotional impact upon the plaintiff from the sensory and contemporaneous observance of the incident, as contrasted with learning of the accident from others after the occurrence.” Reagan v. Vaughn, 804 S.W.2d 463, 466-67 (Tex. 1990), citing Freeman v. City of Pasadena, 744 S.W.2d 923 (Tex. 1988).

In Boyles v. Kerr, 855 S.W.2d 593 (Tex. 1993), the court adopted the bystander rules originally promulgated by the California Supreme Court in Dillon v. Legg, 68 Cal. 2d 728 (Cal. 1968). The Dillon case holds that liability depends on –

(1) Whether plaintiff was located near the scene of the accident as contrasted with one who was a distance away from it;

(2) Whether the shock resulted from a direct emotional impact upon plaintiff from the sensory and contemporaneous observance of the accident, as contrasted with learning of the accident from others after its occurrence; and

(3) Whether plaintiff and the victim were closely related, as contrasted with an absence of any relationship or the presence of only a distant relationship.

The Boyles case also established that a person who suffered emotional distress is not required to prove that he also had some type of physical manifestation of the emotional distress.