The concept of “negligent infliction of emotional distress” is not known to the general public for two reasons: 1) It's a rare occurrence; 2) Proving it is exceptionally difficult. However, it's important to know about marital tort claims if your marriage involves highly sensitive issues such as domestic violence and criminal actions. First, let's go over “marital torts”, which is a lawsuit that is filed as part of a divorce action. Martial torts seek damages on top of standard support payments and marital properties, so the reason behind the tort has to be something quite extreme. Examples of marital tort grounds include transmission of a sexual disease, long-term psychological distress and significant dissipation of marital funds/ properties. In addition, the criminal or ethical misconduct has to be tied directly to the marriage. Otherwise, it would have to be filed as a separate civil action after the judgment of divorce.
Now that we've gone over marital tort, let's look at “negligent infliction of emotional distress.” This is a two part concept, starting with emotional distress, which can be just as, if not more damaging than physical injuries. Emotional distress is often the direct result of physical and/or emotional abuse, but it can also be from negligent actions by the spouse, or other parties involved in the marriage or divorce. In the 2014 case of Innes v. Marzano-Lesnevich, for example, a father sued the law firm that was representing the mother of his child for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The mother had taken off to Spain with their child after gaining access to the child's passport from her lawyer's office. The father obtained both criminal and civil orders to have the child returned, but to this day, she continues to remain in Spain. The mother was eventually arrested, but the court agreed with the father that it was ultimately the law firm's negligence that triggered this tragic incident.
In its decision, the Appellate Division clearly linked the actions of both the mother and the firm, which were “egregious” and “extraordinary”. Being that they were a law firm, they should have known the risks of giving the mother access to the passport. Even if it was via negligence, e.g., leaving the passport out in the open, not keeping it locked in a desk/ safe, etc. they should have known better considering the preponderance of cases where parents run off with the children. The father was awarded monetary damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress, separate from his issues with the child's mother, who is currently serving out a 14 year prison sentence in New Jersey. The extraordinarily complex elements in this case illustrate precisely why negligent infliction of emotional distress is a rare case for the family courts system. It requires a careful assessment of your personal and legal situation, and representation from a highly experienced attorney. For more information on marital torts in new Jersey, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.