Visitor Question

Can a spouse sue for emotional distress if her husband was hit by a drunk driver?

Submitted By: Nikki (Effort, Pennsylvania)

Wondering if I can be part of my husband’s lawsuit against the drunk driver? Can I sue for emotional distress?

Ever since this accident happened my husband has changed because he’s in pain and is miserable. This past year my marriage has been put through the ringer, no more doing family things, and my hubby barely does anything around the house since this accident. It’s taken its toll on my son and me.

We are close to divorce because of his miserable ways and nothing is the same anymore, not to mention that since my hubby is in pain we don’t even sleep in the same bed anymore because the couch feels better on his back. We were supposed to start trying for another kid too last year when this happened….now I’m sure that’s out the window.

This teen drunk driver completely messed everything up in my happy life. I can’t deal with what has happened…done living in misery so after my son starts school in August I will be going back to work and putting the house up for sale and moving out. My son deserves a happy Mom and of course a happy Dad, but with everything that has changed in this past year I don’t see things getting better.

I want to know if I can sue for emotional distress? I live in PA and its a no fault state. Thank You.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.


Dear Nikki,

Anyone, at just about any time, and for just about any reason, can sue someone. That doesn’t mean the person suing is going to prevail. So the answer is, “Yes” you can sue the driver of the car. However, the State of Pennsylvania does not have a statute (law) permitting spouses to sue for vicarious emotional distress for an accident in which they were not involved.

It can be argued you were involved because of the emotional distress the accident has brought upon you, your husband, and your marriage. However, only your husband will be able to recover compensation for his emotional distress, often referred to as pain and suffering, caused by the negligence of the driver.

In the State of Pennsylvania, to prevail in a civil action against a negligent driver requires the plaintiff to prove the following:

  1. The driver owed a duty of care to the plaintiff (Your husband)
  2. The driver failed to perform the duty of care
  3. The failure was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s damages, and
  4. The plaintiff sustained an actual loss or injury

The Pennsylvania statutes (laws) governing motor vehicles can be found in its Motor Vehicle Code at:
Pennsylvania Motor Code, Sections 3101 – 3109

If you do decide to pursue legal action against the driver, apart from your husband’s lawsuit, you would be well advised to speak with an attorney. You would not be able to effectively pursue such a case on your own.

Learn more here: Compensation for Emotional Distress

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney.

Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call 888-972-0892.

We wish you the best with your claim,


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