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Law School Case Brief

Neff v. Lasso - 382 Pa. Super. 487, 555 A.2d 1304 (1989)

Rule:

A cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress exists in Pennsylvania when the following criteria are met: (1) Whether plaintiff was located near the scene of the accident as contrasted with one who was a distance away from it; (2) 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; (3) Whether plaintiff and the victim were closely related as contrasted with an absence of any relationship or the presence of only a distant relationship.

Facts:

Plaintiff victim contemporaneously observed her husband's fatal accident when she saw his truck on the road with tortfeasor following at a high rate of speed, heard a crash, and then saw her husband lying unconscious on the front lawn. She brought an action against defendants for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Defendants filed preliminary objections in the form of a demurrer, which alleged that plaintiff failed to state a claim because she did not visually observe the accident. The trial court sustained the objection. The ruling was reversed on appeal.

Issue:

Was there sufficient evidence to support the claim of the plaintiff victim for negligent infliction of emotional distress?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court held that plaintiff pled sufficient facts to state a claim that she was a percipient witness and that her injuries were foreseeable under the circumstances. The court found that contemporaneous observance was not limited to visual perception but properly included an aural awareness as well. The court held that it was not the source of the awareness, but the degree of awareness that arose from all of plaintiff's senses and memory that determined whether the shock suffered was a contemporaneous observance of the accident.

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