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Feelings or Perceptions: What's Needed in NJ for Emotional Distress?

September 24, 2010

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In the case of <i>Hinton v. Meyers</i>, New Jersey’s Appellate Division was confronted with the question of what amount of "sensory, contemporaneous perception" is necessary for a family member to make out an emotional distress claim arising out of a family member’s death or serious injury. Historically, there are four requirements: (1) the death or serious physical injury of another caused by defendant's negligence; (2) a marital or intimate, familial relationship between plaintiff and the injured person; (3) observation of the death or injury at the scene of the accident; and (4) resulting severe emotional distress.

In <i>Hinton</i>, Kwaku Boadu Bosompem went with his infant daughter Yaa Ayannah Bosompem and her mother Catrina Briggs to a job interview. While at the interview, he “felt” he heard his daughter scream and cry out in pain. Bosumpem also heard sirens. But, he never left the interview or looked outside the window. It turned out that while at the interview, a vehicle driven by Eileen Meyers had crashed into the daughter’s stroller and killed her.

Bosumpem commenced a lawsuit against Meyers and Briggs. He sought emotional distress damages. The Appellate Division was confronted with the question of whether Bosumpem’s “feelings” were sufficient to substantiate the claim. The answer was in the negative. The Court wrote that to support the emotional distress claim Bosompem had to show that he: “had a sensory, contemporaneous perception of an injury that was sustained by a spouse or close family member, irrespective of the distance from which that perception arises.” Under the facts before it, the Court reasoned that Bosompem failed to meet the “sensory, contemporaneous perception” threshold.

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