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Georgia follows the physical impact rule for claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress. In order to avoid limitless liability out of all proportion to the degree of a defendant's negligence, and against which it is impossible to insure without imposing unacceptable costs on those among whom the risk is spread, the right to recover for negligently caused emotional distress must be limited. Although the physical impact rule sometimes produces harsh results, it provides a brighter line of liability and a clear relationship between the plaintiff's being a victim of the breach of duty and compensability to the plaintiff.
Amanda Rae Coon was living in Alabama but received treatment from a hospital owned by The Medical Center, Inc. in Georgia. After the hospital mishandled the remains of her stillborn baby, Coon filed the present lawsuit. Among other claims, Coon sought to recover damages for the negligent infliction of emotional distress. The trial court ultimately entered an order granting summary judgment to the hospital. The court applied Georgia's common-law “physical impact rule” to reject Coon's negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, rather than applying case law from the Alabama courts that allowed claims based on the mishandling of human remains. Coon appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Coon’s petition for certiorari was granted.
Under the circumstances, was the plaintiff entitled to recover damages for the alleged negligent infliction of emotional distress?
The judgment of the court of appeals was affirmed, although the court of appeals' principal opinion relied on the improper choice-of-law approach, as the court of appeals reached the correct conclusion because, for purposes of the traditional choice-of-law approach to common-law claims, the common law as determined by Georgia's courts applied as the claim was filed in Georgia and was governed by the common law, and the common law was also in force in Alabama; thus, based on Georgia common law, the patient was not entitled to damages as she did not suffer any physical impact that resulted in physical injury from the hospital's negligent mishandling of her stillborn child's remains.