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Love v. Cramer - 414 Pa. Super. 231, 606 A.2d 1175 (1992)

Rule:

A cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress depends upon whether plaintiff was located near the scene of the accident as contrasted with one who was a distance away from it; whether the shock resulted from a direct emotional impact upon plaintiff from the sensory and contemporaneous observance of the accident, as contrasted with learning of the accident from others after its occurrence; and whether plaintiff and the victim were closely related as contrasted with an absence of any relationship or the presence of only a distant relationship. Recovery is further limited by the requirement that the person seeking the damages must suffer physical injury as a result of actually witnessing the harm to the close relative.

Facts:

During the summer of 1988, appellant’s mother, Marlene Love, began experiencing problems with her health, among them retention of abnormal body fluid, causing her ankles and abdomen to swell, and difficulty in breathing. Appellant took her mother to see appellee, Dr. Bernard Cramer. During the visit, appellant related to Dr. Cramer her concerns that her mother was having heart problems. Dr. Cramer advised appellant and her mother that further tests and treatment were not necessary. Thereafter, Marlene Love died of heart failure. At that time, appellant had been resting by her mother’s side, and was forced to witness her mother’s death. As a result, appellant became severely depressed, suffered nightmares, stress and intense anxiety, and was forced to undergo prolonged psychological treatment. As administratrix of her mother’s estate, appellant filed a wrongful death and survival action. In the complaint, appellant asserted a claim for damages on her own behalf against Dr. Cramer for the emotional harm she claimed to have suffered as a result of witnessing appellee's alleged negligence, and her mother's resulting death. Appellee filed preliminary objections to the complaint, which the trial court granted. Appellant challenged the trial court’s decision.

Issue:

Did the district court err in dismissing appellant’s complaint for negligent infliction of emotional distress? 

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court reversed the dismissal order. According to the Court, for recovery under negligent infliction of emotional distress, appellant had to have suffered physical injury as a result of actually witnessing the harm to decedent. Appellant's recovery, if proven, would be based upon the fact that her emotional injury was due to her first hand observation of decedent's heart attack, an event allegedly caused by appellee physician's negligence, which she had also witnessed. The Court averred that the appellant's alleged injuries were sufficient to sustain a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress.

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