Torts I, Pages 477–482

Thing v. La Chusa

Supreme Court of California, In Bank, 1989

Facts:

John Thing, a minor, was struck by an automobile. His mother, the plaintiff, was nearby and her daughter told her about the accident. She rushed to the scene to find her son lying bloody and unconscious in the road. Plaintiff thought he was dead and suffered great emotional disturbance, shock, and injury to her nervous system as a result.

Procedural History:

Trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment because she did not contemporaneously and sensorily perceive the accident. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Issue:

Whether a mother who did not witness an accident in which an automobile struck and injured her child may recover damages from the negligent driver for the emotional distress she suffered when she arrived at the accident scene.

Rule:

Page 481, Bottom

[A] plaintiff may recover damages for emotional distress caused by observing the negligently inflicted injury of a third person if, but only if, said plaintiff:

  1. is closely related to the injury victim;
  2. is present at the scene of the injury-producing event at the time it occurs and is then aware that it is causing injury to the victim; and
  3. as a result suffers serious emotional distress—a reaction beyond that which would be anticipated in a disinterested witness and which is not an abnormal response to the circumstances.

Reasoning:

A rule endorsing pure foreseeability that one might be emotionally harmed as a third-party extends liability to be almost limitless. A limit must then be set to that of only close relatives.

Holding:

Plaintiff was not present at the scene where her son was injured, so she could not establish a right to recover for the emotional distress she suffered subsequently. The summary judgment was proper. Reversed.

Note:

Set the Thing rule, the majority rule for what constitutes a bystander

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