Where negligence proximately caused fright, in one within the immediate area of physical danger from that negligence, which in turn produced physical consequences such as would be elements of damage if a bodily injury had been suffered, the injured party is entitled to recover under an application of the prevailing principles of law as to negligence and proximate causation. Otherwise stated, where results, which are regarded as proper elements of recovery as a consequence of physical injury, are proximately caused by fright due to negligence, recovery by one in the immediate zone of physical risk should be permitted.
The injured party was driving over the railroad's grade crossing when her vehicle stalled. Due to a rut that had been allowed to form at the crossing, she was unable to move the vehicle. Upon seeing a train bearing down, the injured party leapt from her vehicle and her vehicle was destroyed by the train. As a result of the incident, she suffered no impact with the train, but her fright and shock caused injuries, including the cessation of lactation. The trial court dismissed the action based on the impact rule and the injured party appealed.
Was dismissal under the impact rule proper where plaintiff had suffered physical injuries due to her fright?
The court refused to apply the impact rule. The court held that although there could be no recovery for fright alone, the injured party sought recover for injuries received as a consequence of the fright. The court rejected the impact rule, holding that it was not necessary that the injured party was contemporaneously injured where she could prove she was in the zone of danger, and that she suffered physical injuries as a result of her fright. The court held that it could not preclude the injured party from recovery simply because it could lead to increased litigation and speculative damages.