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Recovery is permitted for emotional distress following an accident in which the harm resulted from a direct emotional impact upon the plaintiffs through their sensory perception contemporaneous with the accident. The parent has to be close enough to experience the accident at first hand, and recovery will be denied if the plaintiff either sees the accident victim at a later time, or if the plaintiff is later told of the seriousness of the accident.
The parents' daughter became ill with what one of the doctors diagnosed as pneumonia. Three days after the diagnosis, the daughter's babysitter rushed her to the hospital where the daughter later died. The parents reached the hospital and were immediately advised of their daughter's death. The parents filed an action, seeking recovery for their severe mental and emotional harm and distress, accompanied by physical symptoms which allegedly resulted from the harm inflicted on their daughter by the defendants’ malpractice. The Superior Court transferred the parents’ claim against defendants to the State Supreme Court for a ruling on a question of law.
Did the parents have a cause of action permitting them to recover for their emotional distress allegedly resulting from defendants’ medical malpractice?
The Court remanded the case to the trial court determining that the parents were unable to recover for their severe emotional distress based upon the alleged medical malpractice of defendants. The Court held that if the parents were allowed to recover under their negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, it would create a potential cause of action in every parent, who learned, by any reasonable means, of his or her child's negligently inflicted death or injury. Such a rule imposed more liability that any defendant could have reasonably foreseen.