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Supreme Court Announces Emotional Distress Ruling


Nebraska's Supreme Court pronounced an important new decision, affirming a judgment in favor of a Domina Law Group pc llo client involving emotional distress damages. The Supreme Court's June 16, 2006, Opinion was issued after a Nebraska jury returned a verdict for a niece who filed suit against her paternal uncle for emotional distress occurring when he attempted to intimidate her in 2002, when information about his sexual assaults of twenty-five years earlier surfaced. The uncle attempted, through intimidation and threats, as well as ridicule and promises, to silence the victim of his previous predatory conduct.

During the course of his attempts to threaten and intimidate his niece, the uncle left a vivid and chilling message. Her husband immediately contacted the uncle directing him to never contact them again, but the uncle's contacts followed.

The niece and her husband took substantial steps to protect themselves because of their fears of the uncle. They changed their telephone number, changed and locked doors, guarded the children, purchased a handgun, learned how to use it, and relocated to a new home, all so the uncle could not find them. They contacted local police in their community, which is a state distant from the uncle, and instructed their children, and their children's schools, about the risks they believed the uncle posed.

Psychiatric and psychological care was required. The niece was threatened and intimidated, and needed professional help to cope with it.

An "independent" medical examination by a hired defense witness suggested the niece's problems were with litigation issues and not the uncle's inappropriate conduct. The Nebraska Supreme Court disagreed with this assessment and the uncle's claims. To the contrary, the Supreme Court held the uncle's conduct did not amount to "mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, petty oppressions, or other trivialities…" Instead, the conduct was of such kind, when heard by an average member of the community, it would breed resentment in the actor and cause the person hearing the conduct to declare it "outrageous."

The Supreme Court held the niece proved she was required to endure, at the hand of her sexual perpetrator, emotional distress "so severe that no reasonable person should be expected to endure it." Her psychological and psychiatric evidence substantiated this claim.

Though a number of complaints were made by the uncle about the Trial Court's decisions concerning the case, the Nebraska Supreme Court held Plaintiff's proof established her uncle's conduct was extreme, outrageous, intentional, and proximately caused compensable emotional distress.

June 22, 2006
David A. Domina

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