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Dillion v. Legg

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Brief Fact Summary.

A mother sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress after watching her child get hit by a negligent driver.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Whether negligence is the cause of emotional distress is a factual inquiry.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

It is one thing to say that as to those who are put in peril of physical impact, impact is immaterial if physical injury is caused by shock arising from the peril.

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Facts.

The plaintiff was close by when the negligence of a driver caused them to hit and kill the plaintiff’s daughter.  The daughter was lawfully crossing the street, and the plaintiff sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress because of her close proximity to the accident, and the drivers negligence.

Issue.

Could the drivers negligence be the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s emotional distress?

Held.

Yes, the defendant’s negligence could be the cause of the injury.

Dissent.

Justice Traynor, C.J.

The justice dissents for the reasons in Amaya v. Home Ice, Fuel & Supply Co.

Justice Burke, J. (joined by McComb, J.)

The justices dissent on the grounds that the relationship between the person in peril and the spectator creates a slippery slope.  They offer hypothetical examples that illustrate the issues with the majorities reasoning, and conclude that the results under those circumstances leads them to dissent.

Discussion.

The court holds that the question of the drivers negligence as the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s emotional distress is a question of fact.  The court considers factors such as:

(1) The distance of the plaintiff from the scene of the accident.

(2) The timeline of events, including when the plaintiff learned of the injury.

(3) The closeness of the relationship between the plaintiff and the injured.

The majority concludes that under the facts present, it would be improper to bar the plaintiff from recovering.


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