In The Bahamas, people filing certain kinds of lawsuits may seek damages for emotional distress caused by another person. The request for damages may be made in relation to a claim for personal injury or other legal violation, or it may be made as a separate claim, as discussed below.
For damages to be legally recoverable, the emotional distress must have been caused by the wrongful actions of another person. The term “emotional distress” is defined legally to mean something more than “momentary sensations of fright, anger, or feelings of grief, anguish, or sorrow.” Typically the plaintiff must establish that he or she is suffering from genuine, diagnosable psychological conditions or physical illnesses that are a manifestation of the distress. Courts require that the conditions be “recognized psychiatric illness[es].” Wilson Estate v. Bahamas Electricity Corp.  BHS J. No. 67.
When a plaintiff asserts a claim in court for personal injury, he or she may request an award of damages for the physical injury itself and also for emotional distress as a result of the incident. Generally under the common law, the emotional distress must have been foreseeable – a reasonable person could have foreseen that his or her actions would lead to the plaintiff experiencing emotional distress. Depending on the circumstances, some plaintiffs can assert independent claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress or negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Damages may be awarded for emotional distress when a plaintiff develops severe emotional distress because of a defendant's negligence; for example, the plaintiff witnesses a close family member get hurt in a gruesome car accident caused by the speeding defendant. The term “negligence” refers to someone's failure to behave with the level of care that a reasonably careful person would have exercised under the same circumstances.
For a claim for damages for emotional distress to succeed, emotional harm to the plaintiff must have been reasonably foreseeable. In other words, if the plaintiff was on the third floor of an apartment building a block away from the car accident when she witnessed the defendant injure her family member, it is very unlikely that anyone could have foreseen harm to the plaintiff because she was so far away and saw it by chance. But if the plaintiff was sitting in the car during the accident, harm to her was foreseeable.
Courts distinguish between two types of plaintiffs in emotional distress cases: those who were direct participants in an accident and those who were witnesses to an accident caused by another. Witnesses may not recover for emotional distress unless harm to them was foreseeable. Wilson Estate v. Bahamas Electricity Corp.  BHS J. No. 67.
To find out more about emotional distress claims in The Bahamas, visit Gonsalves-Sabola Chambers online or call the office at +1 242 326 6400.