Law School Case Brief
Stacy v. Danielsen - 609 F.3d 1033 (9th Cir. 2010)
A majority of jurisdictions now use the "zone of danger" rule, which permits recovery for emotional injuries resulting from witnessing physical harm to another or from fearing physical harm to oneself.
On July 13, 2007, a foggy day on the Pacific coast, plaintiff Brian Stacy, a fishing boat captain, was trolling for salmon on his fishing boat along with several other boats. At 5 P.M., his radar picked up a freighter one mile away, headed towards his boat on a collision course. Stacy signaled the danger to the freighter, which avoided hitting his boat, but it came close enough for Stacy to hear her engine and machinery and to feel the vessel's wake. The freighter, however, collided with another boat, destroying the vessel and killing her captain. Stacy filed a lawsuit in federal district court against defendants Otto Danielsen, A.S. and K.S. Aries Shipping, the owners and operators of the freighter, for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Stacy alleged that the freighter was proceeding at an unsafe speed without a proper lookout, proper radar equipment, or proper signals in violation of the International Navigation Rules Act, and narrowly missed striking his boat. The freighter's action, Stacy alleged, put him in grave and imminent risk of death or great bodily harm, impacting him emotionally so that he could not work and needed psychiatric help. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, which the district court granted. Stacy appealed.
Did Stacy state a claim against defendants for negligent infliction of emotional distress under maritime law?
The court of appeals reversed the district court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court first observed that jurisdiction was based on federal maritime jurisdiction of torts committed on the high seas under 28 U.S.C.S. § 1333(1), and under U.S. maritime law, a tort is committed by a defendant subjecting a plaintiff to emotional harm within "the zone of danger." Thus, the court ruled, Stacy stated a claim by alleging that he was within the zone of danger and that he suffered emotional distress from the fright caused by defendants' negligence. The court also found that the zone of danger test did not require Stacy to witness harm to another person.
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