Negligent Construction Can Result in Emotional Damages


Negligent Construction Can Result in Emotional Damages

Asha Echeverria

In a recent decision, the Maine Superior Court confirmed that emotional damages can be awarded under a negligent construction claim. The Court also confirmed that lack of physical personal injury or real property damage does not bar a claim for emotional damages.

In Shore LLC et. al v. Dearborn Brothers Construction, Inc, the Plaintiffs brought claims for non-physical injuries against the Defendant construction company that flooded their home while conducting utility work in the area. There was no contract between Plaintiffs and Defendant. The Defendant admitted that its negligence caused the flooding and the parties settled claims for Plaintiffs’ real property damage. However, the Plaintiffs—who were home when the incident occurred—claimed they suffered various non-physical damages, including annoyance and discomfort, interference with and diminution of their enjoyment of the property, and emotional distress.

The Defendant argued that Plaintiffs could not recover such non-physical damages, but the Court disagreed.

Relying on a Maine Superior Court decision, White v. Bishop, the Shore court held that:

  1. The claims for emotional damages were incorporated into Plaintiffs’ claim for general negligence, which also resulted in the damage to the real property.
  2. Because the Plaintiffs’ claim was not filed as a tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED), the heightened NIED standards did not apply.

The Lesson

Lack of physical personal injury is not a bar to emotional damages. Quoting its sister court in White, the Shore court noted that the Law Court has eliminated the “requirement of physical harm and other conditions that have been superimposed onto claims for emotional distress.”

The White Plaintiffs never sought recovery for damage to real property and the Superior Court still let their emotional damages claim proceed. Therefore, a claim of real property damage is also not a prerequisite to emotion damages under a negligence claim.

The Final Takeaway

This area of the law is not settled, even in areas of law like construction and basic torts. Even more interestingly, this ruling could be expanded into other areas of law. So, if you have a claim or need to defend against a claim – reach out to our attorneys specializing in construction litigation or dispute resolution and we can help determine the best path forward.