In Tennessee, Property Damage Cannot Underpin a Claim for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

Posted on March 30th, 2017 by sutteroconnell

Addressing an issue of first impression in Tennessee, the Tennessee Court of Appeals clarified that property damage, standing alone, cannot form the basis of a suit for negligent infliction of emotional distress. In the suit, the plaintiff, a business owner, sued the defendant’s estate.  The decedent defendant was in a severe car accident, which caused him to crash into the plaintiff’s business, rupturing a gas line.  The business burned completely.  The plaintiff was not present for the accident, but arrived afterwards and allegedly developed post-traumatic stress disorder.  The property damage was apparently paid by an insurer, and was the subject of a subrogation action, but plaintiff filed a suit for negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the suit. The Court noted “no case has explicitly held that negligent infliction of emotional distress is a cognizable claim when a plaintiff’s emotional injuries arise solely out of property damage.”  Reviewing law from other states, the Court held that without a showing of fraud, malice, or bad motives, “the law does not permit recovery for Plaintiff’s emotional injuries.”  The opinion in Lane v. Estate of Gary K. Leggett, No. M2016-00448-COA-R3-CV, is available here.