Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress in Hawaii

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Negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) is an independent tort claim which arises when a tortfeasor causes emotional distress to another person resulting in a manifestation of physical injury.

Historically, a Plaintiff alleging a NIED claim was required to demonstrate that he suffered emotional distress which resulted in a physical injury.  In 1970, the Supreme Court of Hawaii held, in the landmark case Rodrigues v. State, that a claimant could bring a NIED claim based solely out of damage done to his home – the first state to abandon the physical injury requirement.  Rodrigues v. State, 52 Haw. 156, 172-74 (1970).  However, in 1986, the Hawaii State legislature abolished this cause of action, stating that “no party shall be liable” for NIED that “arises solely out of damage to property or material objects.”  H.R.S. § 663-8.9. 

In essence, a Plaintiff alleging damages for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress must demonstrate that there was a physical manifestation of the emotional harm.  Soone v. Kyo-ya Co., Ltd. 353 F.Supp.2d 1107, 1118 (D.Hawaii 2005).  There are, however, at least three exceptions to this rule, which have been specifically created by Hawaii courts.  These exceptions include where the plaintiff was exposed to HIV positive blood (John & Jane Roes, 1-100 v. FHP, Inc., 91 Hawai’i 470, 475-76 (1999)); where the defendant mishandled the corpse of the plaintiff’s loved one (Guth v. Freeland, 96 Hawai’i 147, 153-54 (2001)); and where parents’ child was molested by a teacher previously accused of child molestation (Doe Parents No. 1 v. State, Dept. of Educ. 100 Hawai’i 34, 69-71 (2002)).