Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.

Christensen v. Superior Court

Supreme Court of California

December 2, 1991

No. S016890

Opinion

 [*875]  [**183]  [***81]    We are asked to decide whether persons other than those who contract for the services of mortuaries and crematoria or have the statutory right to direct the disposition of the body of a decedent may recover damages for emotional distress engendered by knowledge of the negligent or intentional mishandling of the decedent's remains when they did [****3]  not observe the misconduct or its consequences. The Court of Appeal held that those family members may recover damages for the emotional distress they suffer if remains are negligently or intentionally mishandled, and that if the mishandling is intentional all family members and close friends of the deceased may do so.

We agree that the class of persons who may recover for emotional distress negligently caused by the defendants is not limited to those who have the statutory right to control disposition of the remains and those who contract for disposition. The class is not, however, as expansive as that identified by the Court of Appeal. As in all recovery for negligence, the potential plaintiff must be a person to whom the defendant owes a duty recognized by the law. In this context, the duty is owed only to those close family members who were aware that funeral and/or crematory services were being performed, and on whose behalf or for whose benefit the services were rendered.

Therefore, and because we also conclude that the individual plaintiffs and the class they seek to represent lack standing to recover on an intentional infliction of emotional distress theory, the judgment [****4]  of the Court of Appeal must be modified.

 [*876]  I

Read The Full CaseNot a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.

Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.

54 Cal. 3d 868 *; 820 P.2d 181 **; 2 Cal. Rptr. 2d 79 ***; 1991 Cal. LEXIS 5401 ****; 91 Daily Journal DAR 14722

DONALD PAUL CHRISTENSEN et al., Petitioners, v. THE SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Respondent; PASADENA CREMATORIUM OF ALTADENA et al., Real Parties in Interest

Subsequent History:  [****1]  Petitioners' application for a rehearing was denied January 23, 1992. Arabian, J., did not participate therein. Mosk, J., and Kennard, J., were of the opinion that the application should be granted.

Prior History: Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. C634121, Barnet M. Cooperman, Judge.

Disposition: The judgment of the Court of Appeal is modified to direct the superior court to conform its order on standing to sue to reflect the views expressed herein.

CORE TERMS

emotional distress, mishandling, mortuary, crematory, statutory right, defendants', holder, misconduct, cause of action, family member, foreseeable, funeral-related, intentional infliction of emotional distress, cremation, funeral, cases, recover damages, human remains, contracting parties, plaintiffs', contracted, burial, suffer emotional distress, close family member, close relative, mistreatment, damages, permit recovery, observe, severe emotional distress

Healthcare Law, Medical Treatment, Human Remains, General Overview, Torts, Negligence, Elements, Types of Negligence Actions, Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, Elements, Duty, Pain & Suffering, Emotional Distress, Standards of Care, Reasonable Care, Business & Corporate Law, Limited Partnerships, Agency Relationships, Agents Distinguished, Joint Venturers, Joint Ventures, Management Duties & Liabilities, Vicarious Liability, Partners, Proof, Violations of Law, Causation, Causation in Fact, Intentional Torts, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress