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The zone-of-danger rule, which allows one who is himself or herself threatened with bodily harm in consequence of the defendant's negligence to recover for emotional distress resulting from viewing the death or serious physical injury of a member of his or her immediate family, is said to have become the majority rule in this country. It is premised on the traditional negligence concept that by unreasonably endangering the plaintiff's physical safety, the defendant has breached a duty owed to him or her for which he or she should recover all damages sustained including those occasioned by witnessing the suffering of an immediate family member who is also injured by the defendant's conduct.
In one action, a father, mother, and daughter suffered injuries in a car accident, and the mother and daughter included claims, which were dismissed, for the psychic injuries they suffered upon seeing the father injured. In another case, a father and mother were in a car accident with their two infant daughters, and as a result of one baby's death, the parents included a claim for emotional trauma, which was dismissed pursuant to a motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs appealed.
Were the respective plaintiffs entitled to recover for their asserted emotional distress damages?
The court held that the factual situations of both cases were within the zone of danger rule because in each action the injured parties asserted that they were subjected to an unreasonable risk of bodily injury by the negligent conduct of the tortfeasors. Additionally, in each case the seriously injured or deceased person was a member of the immediate family of the injured parties alleging emotional trauma. The claims in both cases were sufficient, if substantiated by the evidence, to entitle the injured parties to recover for their asserted emotional distress damages.