Mark D. Lerner, Ph.D.
Clinical & Forensic Psychologist
Chairman, The National Center for Emotional Wellness
In legal cases involving abuse, harassment, discrimination, or wrongful termination, plaintiffs often suffer severe emotional distress. However, there is a hidden liability beyond the plaintiff—the emotional suffering endured by their loved ones and family members. This phenomenon is referred to as secondary or vicarious victimization.
Defendants can be held accountable for causing emotional harm not only to the plaintiff but also to their family members. The Bovsun v. Sanperi, 461 N.E.2d 843 (N.Y. 1984) case played a pivotal role in establishing a critical legal precedent that recognizes and addresses this commonly disregarded aspect of emotional distress claims. This landmark case shed light on the necessity of taking into account the impact on family members when determining damages for emotional harm. By highlighting this hidden responsibility in their cases, attorneys can ensure that the full scope of harm inflicted by the defendant is duly acknowledged and appropriately compensated.
Recognizing the potential for secondary victimization in employment law cases enables more comprehensive and compassionate legal representation. Attorneys must be attuned to the emotional toll workplace mistreatment has on not only the employee but also their loved ones and family members. By acknowledging and advocating for the rights of these secondary victims, a more holistic approach to justice can be achieved.