Brief Fact Summary.
Gammon (Plaintiff) suffered a temporary emotional disorder when the Osteopathic Hospital of Maine, Inc. (Defendant) mistakenly sent him a bag of severed body parts. Plaintiff sued for negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A plaintiff can recover on a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress without resulting physical injuries
Plaintiff’s father passed away in the Defendant hospital. When Plaintiff asked for his father’s belongings to be sent to him, the hospital mistakenly sent him a bag of severed body parts taken from the pathology lab. Plaintiff thought the body parts belonged to his father and suffered a temporary emotional disorder. Plaintiff’s suit against Defendant included a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The court dismissed this claim, finding that no physical injury had resulted. Plaintiff appealed.
Can a plaintiff recover on a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim when he has suffered no physical injuries?
(Roberts, J.) Yes. A plaintiff can recover on a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress without resulting physical injuries. A person’s emotional well-being is as entitled to protection as his physical well-being. The rationale behind requiring a physical injury comes out of a fear of such claims being easily fabricated and not easily defended. However, this fear is better addressed through the trial process, not through such arbitrary rules. If a person has a valid and provable emotional injury, he should be allowed to recover, even without associated physical injury. Here, Plaintiff made out a credible claim and it should have gone to the jury to decide the issue. Reversed and remanded.
Acknowledging the extensive criticism aimed at the artificial devices used by courts to protect against fraudulent claims and against undue burden on the conduct of defendants, the Maine Supreme Court recognized that the analyses of commentators and the developing trend in case law encourage us to abandon these artificial devices in this and future tort actions and to rely upon the trial process for protection against fraudulent claims.View Full Point of Law
As the court points out, the difficulty in emotional distress claims is proof. It can be impossible for a defendant to prove that the plaintiff is not psychologically injured. Most jurisdictions follow Maine’s approach in this case and impose an objective standard in order to prevent overly sensitive plaintiffs from recovering in instances where the defendant’s behavior was objectionably reasonable.