Bystander Claims in Texas


Occasionally, our firm gets a call from a prospective new client asking about their rights under the law from witnessing a terrible accident. Most of the time these prospective clients have suffered some sort of PTSD or mental anguish and want to know what if any relief they have under law in Texas. 

To put it simply, Bystander claims are tough. There are certain criteria that have to be met, and even if those criteria are met, that does not mean a plaintiff will recover any compensation. 

To recover as a bystander, a plaintiff must establish that she (1) was located near the scene of the accident, as contrasted with one who was a distance away from it; (2) suffered shock as a result of direct emotional impact upon the plaintiff from a sensory and contemporaneous observance of the accident, as contrasted with learning of the accident from others after its occurrence; and (3) was closely related to the primary victim of the accident. United Services Automobile Association v. Keith, 970 S.W.2d 540, 541-42 (Tex. 1998)

3) Texas Courts have defined "closely related" as pertaining to parents, siblings, children (natural or adopted), and grandparents of the person who was killed. None of these "closely related" individuals must live with the victim at the time of the accident, but these relationships must be provable.

To further illustrate bystander claims, here are a couple of cases where bystanders were allowed to recover and a couple of cases where they were not.


Man’s widow and sons witnessed police shoot him down in his truck when an officer mistook him for a fleeing fugitive. Grandstaff v. City of Borger, 767 F.2d 161 (5th Cir. 1985).  
Uncle rescued nephew from burning apartment but was only entitled to recover as bystander after he proved he was “closely related”.  Garcia v. San Antonio Hous. Auth., 859 S.W.2d 78 (Tex.App.—San Antonio 1993, no writ).  

Not Allowed:

No recovery allowed for wife and kids who were in the same car as Dad during an accident that killed him, because they did not actually see death or injury. Dawson v. Garcia, 666 S.W.2d 254 (Tex.Civ.App.—Dallas 1984, no writ).  
Court allowed no recovery for witnessing the death of co-worker because not closely related.  Kiffe v. Neches-Gulf Marine, Inc., 709 F.Supp. 743 (E.D. Tex. 1989).  
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