The general rule is that where a tortfeasor's negligence causes emotional distress without physical injury, such damages may not be awarded. W. Prossor and W. Keeton, The Law of Torts § 54, at 361 (5th ed. 1984). The courts have recognized the application of this rule in several cases in which the plaintiffs have suffered emotional distress upon observing a loved one who has been physically injured by the act of a tortfeasor. In those cases the courts recognized an exception to the general rule where the plaintiff is shocked by observing the physically injured victim more or less contemporaneously with the plaintiff's learning of the nature of the victim's injuries.
Appellant contractors were negligent in the construction of concrete pods for an earth-sheltered concrete house. Appellee owners of the house brought an action against appellants and recovered monetary damages, including damages for the cost of demolishing and rebuilding the house, storage costs, emotional distress, and for temporary housing.
Was the homeowner eligible for damages arising out of his emotional distress?
The court did not find sufficient evidence to inflict any emotional harm or punitive damages. For the above reasons, the judgment is reversed with respect to the award of rebuilding, storage and temporary housing costs, and damages for emotional distress. The court's refusal to award prejudgment interest on demolition and moving costs is reversed. The court's award of attorney's fees is vacated. In all other respects the judgment of the superior court is affirmed. The case is remanded for a new trial to determine the difference between the value the house would have had if it had been built as promised and the actual value of the house.