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Thing v. La Chusa

Citation. 771 P.2d 814 (Cal. 1989)
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Brief Fact Summary.

A mother learned that her child was hit by a car after it had happened, and brought suit for emotional distress suffered when she arrived at the scene of the accident.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The plaintiff cannot recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress if she was not an eyewitness to the accident.


Plaintiff’s son was stuck by the defendant’s automobile, sustaining serious injuries. Plaintiff did not witness the accident, but rush out to the scene when her daughter informed her that her son had been hit.  She arrived to bind a bloodied, seemingly lifeless child, in the roadway.


Can the plaintiff recover against the defendant for intentional infliction of emotional distress?


No, the plaintiff cannot recover for emotional distress because she was not an eye witness.


Justice Mosk, J.

The justice dissents on the grounds that it is an unwarranted departure from the Dillion precedent.


Justice Kaufman, J.

The justice concurs, but argues that the court should have remained within the bounds of prior precedent.


The court found for the defendant.  They reasoned that despite the defendant’s negligence, the plaintiff cannot recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress because she was not an eyewitness to the accident.  Note that the plaintiff can still recover for other damages, just not for intentional infliction of emotional distress.  The court came to this conclusion on the grounds that they sought to avoid the slippery slope of limitless liability.  The connection between the plaintiff and her son is undoubtedly close, but because she was not “present at the scene of the injury producing event” she does not have a cause of action for emotional distress.

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