F: P’s son was injured when struck by an vehicle negligently operated by D. P, victim’s mom, was nearby, but neither saw nor heard the accident. She became aware of son’s injury when told by someone.
TC granted SJ for D on the ground that P could not establish a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress b/c she did not contemporaneously and sensorily perceive the accident. AC reversed.
I: Whether a mother who did not witness an accident in which an automobile struck and injured her child may recover damages from the negligent driver for the emotional distress she suffered when she arrived at the accident scene.
R: P may recover damages for emotional distress caused by observing the negligently inflicted injury of a third person if said P:
i) is closely related to the injury V
ii) is present at the scene of the injury producing event at the time it occurs and is then aware that it is causing injury to V; and
iii) as a result suffers serious emotional distress – a reaction beyond that which would be anticipated in a disinterested witness and which is not an abnormal response to the circumstances.
A: P was not present at the scene of the accident in which her son was injured. She did not observe D’s conduct and was not
aware that her son was being injured. She could not establish a right to recover for the emotional distress she suffered when she subsequently learned of the accident and observed its consequences.
(1)Impact Rule: In order to recover damages for neg infliction of emotional distress, an external IMPACT by the negligent is required (i.e. does not need to be injurious, but need physical contact)—some jx
- Criticism: Allowed recovery in trivial injuries if impact, but ignores real & serious injuries if no impact.
Against policy to avoid litigating trivial injuries.
(2)Physical Consequences Rule: (replaces impact rule) P can recover as long as there are provable physical consequences + reaction is normal, not hypersensitive—majority rule & Restatement
- Does NOT apply to the hyper-sensitive P—exception to the eggshell skull rule
(Daley v. LaCroix)
(3)Zone of Danger Rule: P can recover if in the zone of danger (must physically injured).
Bystanders outside the zone usually cannot recover.
(4)CA Rule: 2 types of cases
(a)Thing v. LaChusa: Mother sought emotional distress damages for seeing her son in an injured state, although she did not contemporaneously observe the accident.
Held: No recovery.
Mother did not observe the injury-producing event.
(b)Thing’s dicta solidified the guidelines for recovery in CA for negligent infliction of emotional distress (4-points):
2)P must have a PERSONAL SENSORY OBSERVATION of the injury-producing event & be aware of the injury to victim.
4)P must suffer serious emotional distress BEYOND A DISINTERESTED WITNESS and not an abnormal response to the circumstances.
DIRECT VICTIM CASES:
(a)CA: Recovery allowed b/c real emotional distress suffered
(b)Limited to cases where spouse erroneously diagnosed as having an STD; Expanded to marital counseling cases where counselor has an affair w/ patient...may be expanded to cases where special relationship present.
(c)NOT universally adopted in other states