Occasionally New Mexico personal injury law and humor cross paths. A recent case in which the plaintiff sued the City of Las Vegas highlights such an intersection. The lawsuit arose when the plaintiffs toilet backed up causing sewer water to gather on the bathroom floor. There was undisputed property damage that occurred in the City of Las Vegas accepted liability.However, in addition to claiming damage to their house, one plaintiff claimed emotional distress. Although the plaintiff made clear that the emotional distress stemmed entirely from the damage to his floor and walls, I would assume that smelling sewer water on one’s bathroom floor would invoke a great deal of emotional distress. Heck, a clogged toilet at the wrong time can cause fear and anxiety. Sewer water on a bathroom floor goes a step further.
Although a jury awarded the plaintiffs $10,000 for his emotional distress claim, the New Mexico Court of Appeals clarified long-standing law that requires physical injury, defamation, or intentional misconduct prior to allowing emotional distress as a damage.
In New Mexico, negligent infliction of emotional distress is generally limited to the emotional shock that occurs when witnessing a sudden traumatic event. Typically, such triggers include shootings, car accidents, or other serious physical injuries.
On the bright side, this case finally clarifies whether smelling sewer water on one’s bathroom floor is a recoverable damage in and of itself.