Bystander Damages in Accidents

When a person is injured or killed as a result of the negligence of another, a close relative may have witnessed the event in some way. That person who witnessed the heinous event may have suffered serious injuries as well. Bystander damages in accidents are recoverable under the law for those in this situation. Texas law limits who and how such bystander claims can be made. Call a Dallas auto accident and injury lawyer to discuss your case and see what claims you might be able to make. The Law Office of Doug Goyen can be reached at (972) 599 4100.

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Bystander Damage in Car Accidents:

Cases involving emotional shock, emotional and mental trauma, or anguish as a result of witnessing or experiencing an experiential perception of an incident in which a loved one was injured or killed. These are recoverable if the emotional shock injury was a foreseen result of the negligent conduct. There is no requirement for a physical injury. Typically, family members are the only ones who recover. Garrard v. St. Elizabeth Hospital, 730 S.W.2d 649 (Tex. 1987).

Decisions must be made on the following issues:

a. Whether or not the Plaintiff was present at the time of the accident (close proximity).

b. If the shock was caused by a direct emotional impact from a sensory and immediate perception of the accident (experiential perception).

c. Whether or not the Plaintiff and victim were related.

A typical bystander case occurs when someone witnesses a loved one being killed or seriously injured as a result of someone else’s negligence. The person who witnessed the injury or death may file a claim for the harm done to them.

Texas Cases Addressing Bystander Claims:


1) Mother witnessed son run over by a vehicle and was with him on way to hospital when he died. Mother had traumatic depressive reaction. Dave Snelling Lincoln-Mercury v. Simon, 508 S.W.2d 923 (Tex.Civ.App—Houston [1st Dist] 1974, no writ).

2) Sister witnessed unsuccessful attempts to resuscitate and save sister who had drowned at day nursery. Difficulty sleeping, weight loss, hyper-activity, distractibility, and extreme nervousness. Landreth v. Reed, 570 S.W.2d 486 (Tex.Civ.App—Texarkana 1978, no writ).

3) Parents in same accident with daughter where daughter ended up comatose for days, paralyzed, brain damaged, etc. Parents had nervous stomach ulcers, general nervousness, difficulty sleeping, inability to concentrate. Covington v. Estate of Foster, 584 S.W.2d 726 (Tex.Civ.App—Waco 1979, writ ref’d n.r.e.).

4) Father was in back yard, heard a scream and thud, ran to front yard to find his fatally injured son who was struck by car. Father had depression, sleeplessness, and nervousness. Bedgood v. Madalin, 589 S.W.2d 797 (Tex.Civ.App.—Corpus Christi 1979), rev’d, 600 S.W.2d 773 (Tex. 1980).

5) Mother saw blood & crushed glass on child’s face following an impact. Could not see daughter for 10 days. Mother had difficulty concentrating, crying, nightmares, sleeplessness, apathy, no energy, depressive neurosis, etc. Apache Ready Mix Co v. Creed, 653 S.W.2d 79 (Tex.App—San Antonio 1983, no writ).

6) Grandparents and parents were seriously hurt in an explosion that killed grandchild. They all observed injury to child. Grandparents allowed to recover. Genzer v. City of Mission, 666 S.W.2d 116 (Tex.Civ.App.—Corpus Christi 1983, writ ref’d n.r.e.).

7) Son missing in mental hospital. He had fallen down airshaft and died. Father was intensely involved in search for son while he was missing. Father had emotional distress, etc. City of Austin v. Davis, 693 S.W.2d 31 (Tex.Civ.App—Austin 1985, writ ref’d n.r.e.).

8) Man’s widow and sons present and witnessed police shoot him down in truck when officer mistook him for a fugitive. Physical manifestations did not need to be proved in order to recover for mental anguish. Grandstaff v. City of Borger, 767 F.2d 161 (5th Cir. 1985).

9) Uncle rescued nephew from burning apartment entitled to recover as bystander only after he proved “closely related”. Garcia v. San Antonio Hous. Auth., 859 S.W.2d 78 (Tex.App.—San Antonio 1993, no writ).

NOT Allowed:

1) Husband and wife in car with kids. Husband killed in accident. Wife and kids injured, but did not actually see death or injury to husband. No award because wife and children did not actually witness death/injury. Dawson v. Garcia, 666 S.W.2d 254 (Tex.Civ.App.—Dallas 1984, no writ).

2) Grandmother not allowed to recover because she did not give facts to show that her shock resulted from a direct emotional impact on her from observance of the incident. Cavanaugh v. Jones, 863 S.W.2d 551 (Tex.App.—Austin 1993, writ denied).

3) Mother not allowed bystander recovery for medical malpractice that caused death of fetus. Edinburg Hosp Auth v. Trevino, 941 S.W.2d 76 (Tex.App.—Corpus Christi 1997, no writ).

4) No recovery allowed for witnessing death of co-worker. Kiffe v. Neches-Gulf Marine, Inc., 709 F.Supp. 743 (E.D. Tex. 1989).

I often receive calls where someone witnessed the horrific death or injury of someone they did not know. This can also cause severe emotional trauma if you were in the vicinity, but unfortunately, Texas law does not allow recovery in this situation. The witness and victim must be “closely related”.

Related Damages Pages:

Car Accident Injury Damages

Related Injuries in Accidents Pages:

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