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The requirements of La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2315.6, when read together, suggest a need for temporal proximity between the tortious event, the victim's observable harm, and the plaintiff's mental distress arising from an awareness of the harm caused by the event. The Legislature apparently intended to allow recovery of bystander damages to compensate for the immediate shock of witnessing a traumatic event which caused the direct victim immediate harm that is severe and apparent, but not to compensate for the anguish and distress that normally accompany an injury to a loved one under all circumstances.
Plaintiff Marie Trahan received a telephone message that her thirty-six year-old son, who was living with his parents at the time, had been injured in a one-vehicle accident. She went to the hospital emergency room, where her son appeared to be in pain. However, the doctor relieved Mrs. Trahan's anxiety by assuring her that her son was not seriously injured and simply needed bed rest. The doctor discharged the son about two and one-half hours after he had entered the hospital. Unfortunately, the doctor had read the wrong chart, and Terry Trahan, as suggested by the vital signs on his chart, was suffering from shock and internal bleeding. At home, Terry Trahan complained of severe pain to both of his parents, and his condition continued to worsen. He died in the presence of his parents about seven hours after his discharge from the hospital. Because the son was survived by a wife and children, his parents had no wrongful death action, but filed a claim for mental anguish under La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2315.6. The jury found in favor of defendants, but the appellate court reversed the verdict and awarded damages to Terry’s parents.
Was the parents’ claim for mental anguish under La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2315.6 meritorious?
The court held that because the lawsuit was based on the acts of a doctor, the parents’ claim involved malpractice as defined by La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 40:1299.41A(3) and was thus subject to the Medical Malpractice Act. The court held that because the doctor's failure to read the correct chart was not the injury-causing event, and because the son's discharge did not itself cause the mental anguish, the parents suffered no emotional distress that was contemporaneous with viewing a traumatic injury to their son. Therefore, the parents had no cause of action under La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 3215.6, and the court reversed the judgment.