Brief Fact Summary.
Falzone (Plaintiff) sued Busch (Defendant) for negligent infliction of emotional distress after his negligent actions which injured her husband caused her to fear for her own physical safety.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A fright resulting from a defendant’s tortious conduct may lead to physical injury for which the plaintiff can recover.
Plaintiff’s husband was injured in an accident caused by Defendant’s negligence. Plaintiff was there when the accident occurred and was herself in fear for her physical safety. Plaintiff sued for negligent infliction of emotional distress, but the court dismissed the claim, finding that without physical impact there could be no claim. Plaintiff appealed.
Can a plaintiff recover for physical injury caused by fright resulting from a defendant’s tortious conduct?
(Proctor, J.) Yes. A fright resulting from a defendant’s tortious conduct may lead to physical injury for which the plaintiff can recover. Past cases that held that negligence actions must demonstrate a physical impact are no longer rational. The court cannot determine as a matter of law that a person of normal health would not suffer physical injury as a result of fright. The issue must be decided based upon medical evidence. Medical knowledge concerning the effect of emotional disturbance on a person’s physical health has grown and is no longer able to be seriously disputed. Where a defendant’s negligence causes a plaintiff to reasonably fear immediate personal injury and that fear leads to a physical injury or illness, the plaintiff may recover in the same manner as if that injury or illness was the result of a direct physical impact instead of from fear. Reversed.
New Jersey case law preceding this opinion had held that fear could not be the proximate cause of a physical injury. Modern legal scholars almost unanimously disagreed with the rule denying recovery in cases without a physical impact.