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Wilks v. Hom - 2 Cal. App. 4th 1264, 3 Cal. Rptr. 2d 803 (1992)


Under the emotional distress theory, in deciding whether damage could be deemed the proximate result of a defendant's negligence, courts should take into account such factors as: (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.


In an action by multiple plaintiffs, including the mother of an injured minor, for wrongful death and personal injuries against the landlords of a residence where an explosion occurred, the jury awarded damages to the mother for emotional distress occasioned by the negligently caused injuries to her daughter. The trial court's instructions enabled the mother to recover damages as a result of having been contemporaneously aware that the explosion was causing injuries to her daughter, even though she did not actually see or hear her daughter being injured. The landlords appealed, arguing that the court erred in instructing the jury regarding recovery for emotional distress damages by a bystander.


Did the trial court err in instructing the jury regarding recovery for emotional distress damages by a bystander?




The appellate court held that trial court had properly instructed the jury on awarding damages for emotional distress to a bystander, since it was not necessary for a plaintiff bystander to actually have witnessed the infliction of injury to his or her child, provided that the plaintiff was at the scene of the accident and was sensorially aware, in some important way, of the accident and the necessarily inflicted injury to the child. The appellate court held that although the mother could not visually witness the infliction of injuries to her daughter, she was present at the scene of the accident, she was personally impressed by the explosion at the same instant damage was done to her child, and she instantly knew of the likely severe damage to the child. The court further held that the evidence was sufficient to establish that at the time of the explosion, the mother was aware that it was causing injury to her daughter, since the mother's testimony established that she knew that two of her daughters were in their bedrooms at the time of the explosion. From the evidence, the court held that the mother had to have known at the time of the explosion that both of the daughters were experiencing injury.

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