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Mobaldi v. Regents of Univ. of Cal. - 55 Cal. App. 3d 573, 127 Cal. Rptr. 720 (1976)

Rule:

Where the victim immediately injured and the plaintiff hold themselves out to the public as mother and child, the child is treated as a filial member of a foster mother's family, the child treats the foster mother as a mother, and the tortfeasor treats the two as mother and child, the relationship guideline is satisfied although the injured child is neither the natural nor adopted offspring of the emotionally traumatized foster mother. Where the plaintiff perceives by sight and hearing the physical injury to another in her presence caused by the defendant's negligence, the guideline requirement of direct emotional impact from sensory and contemporaneous observation of the accident is satisfied, although the plaintiff may not be aware of the precise nature of the negligence. 

Facts:

Patricia and Harry Ramsburg were a married couple who acted as foster parents. Mrs. Ramsburg was motivated by her experience as a foster child, and acted as a compensated foster parent for several years.  In March of 1970, John Patrick Mobaldi, then five months old, was entered into their care as a foster child. John had been born with a severe kidney defect likely to result in his early death. In 1973, John went to UCLA Medical Center for tests with Mrs. Ramsburg. By mistake, one of the physicians used a 50 percent mixture of glucose, a drastically unsafe solution. After injection commenced, all of the physicians left the room to examine X-rays. The infusion was left running into John's vein. While in Mrs. Ramsburg's arms, John began to breathe in a peculiar manner. Within a short time he became spastic and convulsant and finally comatose. As a result, he suffered irreversible brain damage and was made permanently blind and quadraplegic, severely retarded, subject to seizures, and generally comatose. Mrs. Ramsburg's experience in witnessing the incident caused her to become severely depressed. She lost 40 pounds from May 23, 1973, through September of that year, suffered from insomnia, despair, and futility to the extent that she sometimes became bedridden. Mrs. Ramsburg was also treated by a psychiatrist and the prognosis for her full recovery was only fair. The foster parents filed an action for medical malpractice, as guardians ad litem of their foster son, against the medical center and physicians. The foster parents sought damages for, among other things, Mrs. Ramsburg's emotional distress and resulting physical injuries, but they did not allege the details of her close parent-child relationship. The medical center and physicians filed a demurrer, which the trial court sustained, and dismissed the case without leave to amend. Plaintiffs appealed.

Issue:

Was the dismissal of the second and third causes of action, for loss of society and companionship, and for negligence and physical damages from emotional distress without leave to amend proper?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The court reversed the judgment of dismissal and instructed the trial court to allow the foster parents to file an amended complaint to allege facts of the relationship between them and their foster son. The facts of the relationship as parent and child, in the Ramburg's written declarations to the trial court, were sufficient to satisfy guidelines for determination of foreseeability of emotional trauma through injury to another. Mrs. Ramsburg was at the scene of the negligent act, and she suffered physical injuries from the emotional trauma as a consequence of the negligent act. The emotional relationship was relevant, rather than the legal status thereof. The emotional trauma to Mrs. Ramsburg through the injury to her foster son was foreseeable on the part of the medical center and physicians. The court held that plaintiffs should also be permitted to amend their complaint for the second cause of action, for loss of society and companionship, due to the decision in Hair v. County of Monterey, 45 Cal.App.3d 538, which was issued but not yet available when they filed their opening brief.

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