Many of the San Bruno residents evacuated on September 9th may be categorized as “survivors,” having escaped the Glenview fire without being burned. But even though they suffer no physical injuries, the gas explosion will leave dozens with emotional injuries that will persist for a long time to come.
Generally the law does not require a wrongdoer to compensate the victim for the emotional distress it has caused a victim unless it has also caused the victim to suffer some sort of physical injury. And certainly PG&E will argue that the general rule should apply here — that unless a victim suffered physical injury, PG&E shouldn’t be required to compensate him for any emotional injury that it may have inflicted.
But in a special situation like this one, everyone who suffered serious emotional injuries should be entitled to compensation, regardless of whether they suffered any physical injuries. That’s because PG&E knew that if its negligence led to a gas line explosion, people would fear for their lives and for those of their loved ones. PG&E’s behavior was morally wrong and the laws are designed to hold wrongdoers accountable for all the harm they cause, even if that harm is "only" emotional distress.
Seeking compensation for emotional distress (or "post traumatic stress disorder") does not mean you are weak or can’t handle a stressful situation. Nor does it mean you are piling on or taking advantage of the system. People who suffer from emotional distress suffer real losses. Often because they can’t concentrate, they lose their jobs or do poorly in school. Their family situations may deteriorate because they begin to snap at those they love. They suffer from anxiety – feel constantly "on edge" — and that can lead to depression.
Lawyers experienced in PG&E explosion cases can assist the San Bruno residents who are suffering emotionally from this haunting catastrophe.