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Son's death in car accident not covered as bodily injury

Any parent that looses a child likely experiences feelings of profound loss and sadness. While the emotional distress that stems from this type of tragedy does not directly cause physical or bodily harm, ensuing health conditions related to stress and depression do. This is the stance that two Tennessee parents presented to the Tennessee Supreme Court in regards to a lawsuit they filed after losing their son in a fatal car accident.

In 2006, the couple's son was struck by a car while riding on a dirt bike near the family's home. The boy's parents were first to arrive at the scene of the accident and attempted to comfort their severely injured son for nearly an hour before paramedics arrived. Sadly, their son died a short time later as a result of the various injuries he sustained.

Upon their son's death, the boy's parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver and owner of the car that struck and killed their son. They also settled a wrongful death claim with their insurer, State Farm Mutual, in the amount of $75,000. As part of their claim, the couple asked for damages related to the severe emotional distress and pain they experienced upon seeing their fatally injured son.

State Farm Mutual, however, stated that the couple's policy did not cover emotional distress. The couple contended emotional distress should be covered under the policy's bodily injury portion as they experienced shock, depression and insomnia as a result of witnessing their son's injuries. A lower Tennessee court agreed with the couple.

State Farm appealed the lower court's decision and the Tennessee Supreme Court agreed with the insurer. In the court's recent ruling, they asserted that "bodily injury does not include damages for emotional harm alone".

Source: Insurance Journal, "Tennessee Court: Parents' Emotional Distress Not Covered by Auto Policy," Michael Adams, Sept. 4, 2012

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