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Clohessy v. Bachelor - 237 Conn. 31, 675 A.2d 852 (1996)

Rule:

The zone of danger rule 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. The rule is premised on the 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.

Facts:

On March 22, 1993, Brendan, a seven year old child, left St. Mary's Church in New Haven with his mother, Mary Clohessy, and his brother, Liam, and attempted to cross the street at an intersection within a marked crosswalk. Liam was immediately to the right of his mother, Mary, and Brendan was immediately to her left. Defendant Kenneth L. Bachelor was operating an automobile on the street at an excessive speed when the exterior side view mirror of his vehicle struck Brendan's head, hurling Brendan onto the road. Both Mary and Liam witnessed the impact and went to Brendan's assistance, holding him as he experienced pain and suffering from his fatal head injuries.

Plaintiffs Mary and Liam filed an action to recover damages, one count of which was for severe emotional distress they allegedly suffered as bystanders as a result of observing an automobile strike Brendan. The trial court granted defendant motion to strike that count of th complaint on the ground that it failed to state a cause of action. They suffered serious injuries as a result of the emotional shock and mental anguish of witnessing the accident that eventually led to Brendan's death.

Issue:

Can a parent and a sibling recover damages for emotional distress they sustained by witnessing the parent's other young child being fatally injured as a result of an accident caused by the negligence of the Defendant?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Connecticut reviewed the development of law over the last 40 years and specifically overruling Strazza, recognized a cause of action for bystander emotional distress, and held that a tortfeasor may owe a legal duty to a bystander. Consequently, a tortfeasor who breaches that duty through negligent conduct may be liable for a bystander's emotional distress proximately caused by that conduct because it was reasonably foreseeable that a bystander, especially close relatives of a minor child who was killed, would suffer emotional distress. The Court further concluded that public policy required that the court recognize this duty owed by a tortfeasor to a bystander. 

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