Emotional Distress Claims Allowed for Trespass to Real Property

The United States District Court for the District of Columbia has allowed plaintiffs in a trespass action to seek damages for emotional distress.

Defendant and its predecessors alleged contaminated ground water with gasoline. Plaintiffs’ claims included claims for emotional distress.

The Court ruled that “[u]nder District of Columbia law, it is firmly established that a plaintiff may recover damages for mental suffering unaccompanied by physical injury where the plaintiff sues for an intentional tort. Adams v. George W. Cochran & Co., Inc., 597 A.2d 28, 31 (D.C. 1991); Parker v. Stein, 557 A.2d 1319, 1322 (D.C. 1989); Barnes v. Dist. of Columbia, 452 A.2d 1198, 1199 D.C. 1982). It is also clear that trespass is an intentional tort. E.g., Cleveland Park Club v. Perry, 165 A.2d 48, 488 (D.C. 1960). Although the parties have not cited – and the Court has been unable to find – a District of Columbia decision addressing the availability of emotional distress damages in a trespass case, the decision in Parker is instructive. In that case, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, applying the established rule regarding intentional torts, concluded that emotional distress damages are available in an action for conversion of personal property. Parker, 557 A.2d at 1322-23. Here, the Court can find no meaningful distinction between personal and real property to suggest that courts in the District of Columbia would permit recovery of emotional distress damages for intentional torts involving personal, but not real, property damage. Accordingly, the Court concludes that emotional distress damages are recoverable for trespass actions under District of Columbia law.”

The case is Nnadili v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., Civil Action No. 02-1620 (ESH); read the June 1, 2006 opinion here.