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One approach for determining whether a plaintiff has standing for an emotional distress action does not necessarily require any evidence of a physical injury. It is the "foreseeability" approach. Under this approach, the key inquiry is whether it was reasonably foreseeable that the defendant's specific course of conduct would cause the plaintiff serious emotional distress.
Plaintiff Camper was driving his cement truck along a four-lane highway. At the same time, Jennifer L. Taylor, a 16-year-old driver of a car owned by her mother was proceeding on a two-lane road that intersects where the plaintiff was. As the plaintiff approached the intersection, the latter suddenly pulled out in front of plaintiff, resulting in the collision of the vehicles where the minor driver was instantly killed. Plaintiff exited his truck after the crash, from a close range, he viewed the wreckage body of the deceased. Plaintiff brought this action, a negligent infliction of emotional distress case against defendant estate administrator, Daniel B. Minor, and the owner of the other vehicle for negligent infliction of emotional distress caused when he viewed the deceased victim's body after their automobiles collided. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court denied. The trial court found that damages for emotional injuries were potentially recoverable even though plaintiff driver did not suffer any physical injury. The lower court disagreed, holding that plaintiff failed to provide evidence that viewing the deceased victim's body caused him to be in fear for his own safety, which was one of the requirements in recovery for mental distress. Plaintiff driver appealed.
Did the lower court err in holding that plaintiff failed to provide the evidence which was one of the requirements in recovery for mental distress?
The judgment of the lower court was reversed and remanded with instructions for the lower court to use the family purpose doctrine in determining the mother's potential liability for her daughter's negligence in operating the mother's vehicle. The court abandoned the injury rule and held that the action was to be analyzed under a general negligence approach. The court also held that summary judgment was improper and that the family purpose doctrine applied to the action. Under the family purpose doctrine, the defendant owner of the other vehicle was potentially liable for the plaintiff driver's emotional injuries caused by the deceased victim's alleged negligence because the defendant owner gave consent to the deceased victim to use her automobile.