Dear Law Guy, What exactly is a personal injury? And what’s the opposite – an impersonal injury? Can impersonal injuries warrant lawsuits? I’m asking because my neighbor drives me nuts for about a million reasons, most of them spiritual, but I’m wondering if maybe I could sue him. The sidewalk in front of his house isn’t well maintained in the winter and always winds up treacherous with ice, but also his house is painted an offensive color. My question is basically, do I have to actually go and break my ankle on his sidewalk or can I sue for the pure psychic distress that that his teal siding and cotton-candy shutters causes me?
The term personal injury covers harm to the body, mind, or emotions. The opposite of a personal injury is not an “impersonal injury” but rather property damage. As to your suggestion, tripping is among the most common personal injury claim, but I would of course never recommend that you deliberately injure yourself on your neighbor’s property. You never know how bad you could hurt yourself, and if the ethics of the situation doesn’t bother you, know that if someone found you googling the ins and outs of personal injury claims before your supposed fall, it would look bad and jeopardize your entire caper. And in fact, you could run into problems with your own insurance company, and there you’d be, potentially navigating a major injury, with sizable medical bills and loss of income. To make a long story short, do not do that. Bad idea. As to whether you could have a claim for an offensive house color, your only cause of action under the umbrella of personal injury cases would be negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED), but it’s a longshot. In theory, we all have a legal duty to avoid causing emotional distress in another, within reason. In practice, it came about as something to tack-on to a case of negligent physical harm. Then people began successfully claiming NIED in the case of negligent physical harm to a loved one. Then came NIED in the case of negligent property damage. Courts don’t typically like dealing with emotional distress as an intangible condition – and so it’s not easy to demonstrate without concrete effects to your life – such as a divorce that would have otherwise been avoided. We all suffer emotional distress at different times in our lives, and most of those instances are not compensable. So, techincally, your course of action would be to claim NIED, but in reality, you don’t have much of a claim at all and should perhaps consider planting some fast growing trees to block out your view of your neighbor’s house. What the cost for landscaping, it will be less than potentially bringing a losing claim against your neighbor – and it won’t sour your relationship (whatever its current state). The best defense is not to start a war with your neighbors.