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Law and NeuroscienceCurrent Legal Issues Volume 13$
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Michael Freeman

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199599844

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199599844.001.0001

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Neuroscience and Emotional Harm in Tort Law: Rethinking the American Approach to Free-Standing Emotional Distress Claims

Neuroscience and Emotional Harm in Tort Law: Rethinking the American Approach to Free-Standing Emotional Distress Claims

Chapter:
(p.203) 12 Neuroscience and Emotional Harm in Tort Law: Rethinking the American Approach to Free-Standing Emotional Distress Claims
Source:
Law and Neuroscience
Author(s):

Betsy J. Grey

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199599844.003.0012

This chapter proceeds as follows. Part I reviews the current American common law, as well as the draft Restatement (Third) proposals, concerning emotional distress claims. Mental distress claims have never been given equal status with other tort claims and this part discusses why this value judgement has occurred. Using studies of PTSD as an example, Part II explores advances in neuroscience that have begun to shed light on the biological basis of the harm suffered when an individual is exposed to extreme stress. These advances underline the shrinking scientific distinction between physical and emotional harm. Part III examines English law and its threshold requirement of showing a diagnosable psychiatric illness. Drawing on these different lines of thinking, Part IV concludes that we should rethink the American approach to emotional distress claims. In general, it proposes that we change our approach to account for advances in neuroscience, moving toward a more unified view of bodily injury. The chapter advances two potential legal applications: firstly, that science can provide empirical evidence of what it means to suffer emotional distress, thus helping to validate a claim that has always been subject to greater scrutiny; and secondly, that this evidence may allow us to move away from the sharp distinction between how physical and emotional injuries are conceptualized, viewing both as valid types of harm with physiological origins.

Keywords:   American common law, tort law, mental distress, English law, bodily injury

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