As of this publication, no successful suit for negligent infliction of emotional distress has been brought against the media in North Carolina. However, in a 1990 non-media case, the N.C. Supreme Court issued an opinion that outlined what a plaintiff must prove to prevail in a negligent infliction of emotional distress case in this state. The court said a plaintiff must prove:
(1) the defendant negligently engaged in conduct, (2) it was reasonably foreseeable that such conduct would cause the plaintiff severe emotional distress (often referred to as “mental anguish”), and (3) the conduct did in fact cause the plaintiff severe emotional distress.
The court said that while some states require plaintiffs to prove they have suffered physical harm, such injury is not a requirement in North Carolina. The court also noted, however, that mere fright or temporary anxiety did not constitute severe emotional distress. Rather, severe emotional distress means “any emotional or mental disorder, such as for example, neurosis, psychosis, chronic depression, phobia, or any other type of severe and disabling emotional or mental condition which may be generally recognized and diagnosed by professionals trained to do so,” the court explained.
Also the court said a plaintiff could recover for his or her severe emotional distress arising out of concern for another if he or she suffered that severe emotional distress as a foreseeable result of the defendant’s negligence.
Media defendants in other states generally win negligent infliction cases because plaintiffs are required to show the media owed them a duty of care and are unable to do so. The courts generally determine that the media owe no duty of care to their audiences, and imposing such a duty might violate the First Amendment. It is unclear whether proof of a duty of care will be required of plaintiffs suing the media in North Carolina. It is clear, however, that negligent infliction of emotional distress claims against the media raise serious constitutional questions because the media often publish information that is upsetting but is also newsworthy.
 Johnson v. Ruark Obstetrics, 327 N.C. 283 (1990), reh’g denied, 327 N.C. 283 (1990), reh’g denied, 327 N.C. 644 (1990).