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Robb v. Pennsylvania Railroad Co

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant for negligent infliction of emotional distress after Defendant’s train destroyed Plaintiff’s car when Defendant negligently failed to fix a rut at one of its street crossing. The trial court granted summary judgment to Defendant. Plaintiff appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    When a plaintiff is within the zone of danger, the plaintiff may recover for the physical effects of fright caused by another, even if there is no physical impact.

    Facts.

    Robb’s (Plaintiff) car got stuck in a broken train track rut, which the Pennsylvania Railroad Co. (Defendant) negligently failed to fix. As she was trying to get the car out, a train, which could not stop, destroyed her car. Plaintiff was able to avoid physical injury by jumping out of the way. However, she suffered nervous shock that impeded her ability to nurse her child and do her job resulting from the near miss. The trial court held that she did not suffer any physical impact and therefore, granted summary judgment to Defendant.

    Issue.

    Whether a plaintiff who was within the zone of danger can recover for the physical effects caused by another even if there was no physical impact.

    Held.

    Yes. Summary judgment is reversed and the case is remanded. A plaintiff who was within the zone of danger may recover from the physical effects of fright caused by the negligence of another, even if there was no physical impact.

    Discussion.

    In order to be successful, a plaintiff must still prove the physical damage did occur and that it was caused by the fright that was caused by defendant’s negligence. Furthermore, allowing recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress will not significantly increase litigation and fictitious claims, thus the impact rule is rejected.


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