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Abstract

Why should tort law treat claims for emotional harm as a second-class citizen? Judicial skepticism about these claims is long entrenched, justified by an amalgam of perceived problems ranging from proof difficulties for causation and the need to constrain fraudulent claims, to the ubiquity of the injury, and a concern about open-ended liability. To address this jumble of justifications, the law has developed a series of duty limitations to curb the claims and preclude them from reaching the jury for individualized analysis. The limited duty approach to emotional harm is maintained by the latest iteration of the Restatement (Third) of Torts.

This Article argues that many of the justifications for curtailing this tort have been discredited by scientific developments. In particular, the rapid advances in neuroscience give greater insight into the changes that occur in the brain from emotional harm. Limited duty tests should no longer be used as proxies for validity or justified by the presumed untrustworthiness of the claim. Instead, validity evidence for emotional harm claims—like evidence of physical harm—should be entrusted to juries. This approach will reassert the jury’s role as the traditional factfinder, promote corrective justice and deterrence values, and lead to greater equity for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) claimants. The traditional limitations on tort recovery, including the rules of evidence and causation, are more than adequate to avoid opening the floodgates to emotional distress claims.

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