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Daley v. LaCroix

    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, LaCroix (Defendant), wrecked his car shearing off a utility pole and creating an electrical explosion at the Plaintiffs, the Daleys’ house (Plaintiffs). Plaintiffs claimed, in addition to property damage, that two family members suffered severe emotional disturbance as a result of the accident. The trial court granted a directed verdict on the ground that Michigan law denies recovery for emotional disturbance without a showing of physical impact.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Michigan courts now recognize an action for negligently caused emotional disturbance regardless of a showing of physical impact.

    Facts. On July 16, 1963 the Defendant was driving near the Plaintiffs’ farm when his vehicle left the highway, traveled 63 feet in the air, and sheared off a utility pole. Several high voltage lines snapped, striking the electrical lines leading into Plaintiffs’ house and causing a great electrical explosion. The Plaintiffs claimed, in addition to property damage, that Estelle Daley suffered traumatic neurosis, emotional disturbance and nervous upset and that Timothy Daley suffered emotional disturbance and nervousness as a result of the explosion. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of a directed verdict on the ground that Michigan law denies recovery for negligently caused emotional disturbance absent a showing of physical impact.

    Issue. Should Michigan continue to require some impact upon the person in order to recover for negligently caused emotional disturbance?

    Held. No. Reversed and remanded.
    * Michigan courts have routinely denied recovery for negligently caused emotional disturbance without accompanying physical injury or physical consequences, except in rare circumstances. This rule is based on the fear of plaintiffs inventing injuries, creating endless litigation.
    * This Court believes that based on changed circumstances and factual and scientific information available today the common law “impact” requirement should no longer apply in Michigan. The court held that when defendant’s negligence creates a definite and objective physical injury as a result of emotional distress, the plaintiff may recover damages without any physical contact upon the plaintiff at the time of the mental shock.
    * Several limitations are applicable to this new holding. First, defendant’s standard of conduct is measured by reactions to be expected of normal persons. Second, plaintiff has the burden of proof that the physical harm complained of is a natural consequence of the alleged emotional disturbance, proximately caused by defendant’s conduct.
    * In the present case, it is necessary to determine if there is sufficient evidence to create a jury question, considering the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiffs. Although only lay testimony was offered for Timothy Daley, a jury could reasonably infer a causal relation between Defendant’s negligence and the injuries alleged. Estelle Daly’s claim was supported by expert testimony, and again presents a question for the jury.

    Dissent. This is not a case where it is appropriate to adopt a new rule of law. Plaintiffs in this case suffered, if anything, an indefinite and subjective injury. The dissenting judge would affirm the trial court’s grant of directed verdict.
    Concurrence. Judge Kelly concurred with Judge Brennan’s dissent.

    Discussion. In the past, compensation had been allowed for emotional disturbance without physical impact in limited circumstances, such as the negligent mishandling of corpses.


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