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Courts Disagree On Reach of Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Claims

  • April 15, 2000

The legal issue of emotional distress caused by the actions of an employer during the course of the employment relationship comes up frequently. In 1997, in Parsons v. United Technologies Corp., the Connecticut Supreme Court recognized a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress for actions associated with "the termination process." However, a growing number of courts are expanding the reach of such claims beyond the "termination process."

For example, in Karanda v. Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, the Connecticut Superior Court ruled that negligent infliction of emotional distress claims should be allowed at any time during employment. The court reasoned that, because the legislature changed the worker's compensation law in 1993 to exclude emotional distress injuries, plaintiffs may pursue claims for such injuries in a lawsuit.

In Mackay v. Rayonier (The Connecticut Employer, Winter 2000), a federal court followed Karanda and held that allegations of pre-termination misconduct could serve as a basis for a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim. By contrast, in Hanson v. Cytec Indus., a federal court recently disagreed with Karanda and ruled that negligent infliction of emotional distress claims are limited to claims arising out of the termination process. Similarly, a different Connecticut Superior Court judge disagreed with Karanda and dismissed the negligent infliction of emotional distress claim in Dorlette v. Harborside Healthcare.

Negligent infliction of emotional distress claims are popular with plaintiffs because typically they increase the potential for money damages well beyond discrimination or contract claims. We can expect to see more of these claims tacked onto requests for make-whole relief and compensatory damages in employment disputes. Ultimately, the Connecticut Supreme Court will need to resolve the controversy over the reach of these claims.

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