Remember that sheriff's deputy who got his Burger King Whopper with extra loogie? He sued just over a year ago for emotional distress.
His original case was thrown out by a federal court because his lawsuit was about mental distress without physical harm. The court claimed that wasn't allowed under the laws of Washington state, where the case took place.
But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, and said it should be up to Washington's Supreme Court to decide what is and isn't allowed under Washington state law.
Well the court has issued an answer, and it looks like this case will continue.
The court decided that Clark County Sheriff's Deputy Edward Bylsma has the right to sue for alleged emotional distress even though he wasn't physically hurt.
That means Bylsma will be taking his case back to court. Now that it's clear he has a right to sue, the judge will have to render a verdict on the facts of the case.
This debate over lawsuits for emotional harm is one that actually comes up over and over in courts. The issue lies primarily with proving the harm.
Before a judge will award a victim damages in a personal injury suit, the victim has to prove he's been harmed in some way.
When the injury is physical, it's easy to prove. Medical bills, physical limitations as a result of an injury, or ongoing therapy to improve mobility are all proof that an injury caused harm.
But when the harm is only emotional, there's less to go on.
How can you prove emotional pain? Courts aren't always sure, so they often just bar cases that claim only emotional distress without some sort of physical injury as well.
But Washington's law allows such claims, the state's Supreme Court held. So now Bylsma will get a chance to prove he deserves compensation for emotional pain and suffering -- which, in some severe cases, can require therapy or manifest itself in other distressing ways.
While most people won't have much trouble believing that a spit-topped Whopper is distressing, whether it's worthy of monetary damages is for the court to decide. You may want to check under your buns from now on, just in case.
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