Negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) is another type of emotional distress injury that is recognized in tort law. As opposed to intentional emotional distress, negligent emotional distress does not require an intent to cause such distress. For NIED there is a distinction between direct victims and indirect victims. The longstanding “impact rule” has been rejected by Illinois courts in favor of new elements that must be proven based on the status of the victim. Direct victims must show the standard elements of negligence, namely duty, breach, causation, and damages. First, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant had a duty of care to the plaintiff. For instance, a driver on the road owes a duty to other drivers that they will steer their vehicle in a safe manner and follow the laws. Second, a breach of that duty needs to be proven. The third element is that the defendant’s conduct must be the proximate cause of the injuries. In Illinois, proximate cause is generally understood to mean a cause in the natural, or ordinary course of events produced the plaintiff’s injuries. Finally, the plaintiff must prove damages. In Illinois, physical symptoms need not be present, but a severe, longstanding emotional injury is needed. If they can prove that the defendant was negligent in causing the emotional distress, they are entitled to recover.

For indirect victims, the elements to prove negligent emotional distress are:

  1. They were in the zone of danger. This means that the plaintiff must prove that they were in close enough proximity to the defendant to be at high risk of injury;
  2. The injured party feared for their own safety as a result of the defendant’s negligence;
  3. They suffered physical injury in connection with their emotional injury or illness. Note the distinction between this and the direct victim. Additionally bystanders do not need to show physical impact by the defendant.

Because of the elements needed to prove a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, it is imperative to seek the counsel of a local attorney in your state for advice. The distinction between intentional and negligent emotional distress can be subtle based on the facts and circumstances of each case.

If an accident has occurred, it is important to seek medical care immediately. This is needed for several reasons: first, a presence at the scene can be established and an initial assessment of the injuries can be documented. Next, make sure to speak to any police at the scene. Get an accident report from the officer. Finally, continue to seek medical care to document the nature and extent of the injuries.


This article is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Do not rely on the above information as all cases are different and different laws apply to different cases. Consult an attorney in your area for further guidance. If you were emotionally injured by an accident please call one of our attorneys at David K. Kremin & Associates, and we will give you a free consultation. We never charge unless we collect for you. Please call 1(800) ASK-A-LAWYER or 1(800)275-2529.