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Armstrong v. Paoli Mem'l Hosp. - 430 Pa. Super. 36, 633 A.2d 605 (1993)

Rule:

To state a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff must demonstrate that she is a foreseeable plaintiff and that she suffered a physical injury as a result of the defendant's negligence. 

Facts:

As she was dressing her young son for a birthday party one morning, plaintiff Dawn Armstrong received a telephone call from defendant Paoli Memorial Hospital ("Paoli") informing her that her husband had been in an accident and asking her to come to the hospital. Once at the hospital, Dawn met with a neurosurgeon and examined X-rays of a man with a crushed cranium. She was not allowed to see the patient. Ultimately, Dawn discovered that the victim was not in fact her husband, but rather another person with a name similar to her husband's. Dawn, joined by her husband, Thomas J. Armstrong, filed suit in Pennsylvania state court against Paoli, alleging negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress and asking for compensatory and punitive damages. The count of intentional infliction of emotional distress and the request for punitive damages were dismissed by the trial judge at the close of testimony. After a trial, the jury awarded the Armstrongs $ 1,000 on the claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress. In response to post-trial motions, the trial court entered a single order granting a new trial as to damages, calling the verdict of $ 1,000 inadequate, indeed supremely embarrassing; the trial court denied Paoli's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Paoli appealed.

Issue:

Was Dawn entitled to damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court reversed the order that granted a new trial as to damages and denied Paoli's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The court held that Dawn did not state a cause of action and was not entitled to recover damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress because she was not a bystander who observed the accident and she was not even related to the accident victim. The court also held that Paoli did not owe her a pre-existing duty of care.

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