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Taylor v. Vallelunga

Citation. Taylor v. Vallelunga, 171 Cal. App. 2d 107, 339 P.2d 910, 1959).
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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff Gerlach alleges Defendants physically attacked him and Plaintiff Taylor, Gerlach’s daughter, alleges she witnessed the attack. Gerlach sued for damages stemming from his physical injuries while Taylor sued for the emotional distress she suffered from witnessing the attack.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

For one to recover for emotional distress when she has experienced no physical injury, she must establish that the Defendant intentionally caused her to suffer from severe emotional distress.


Plaintiff Taylor witnessed Defendants intentionally attacking and beating her father, Plaintiff Gerlach. While Gerlach sued for his physical damages, Taylor sued to recover for the emotional distress she experienced as a result of witnessing the event. Taylor failed to allege that the Defendants knew she was present for the event or that they intended the beating to cause her to suffer distress. The trial court granted the Defendants’ motion to dismiss Taylor’s claim and Taylor appealed.


Did the trial court err in dismissing Taylor’s complaint for intentional infliction of emotional distress?


No. The dismissal was affirmed. When a Plaintiff seeks to recover for emotional distress but does not allege any physical damage, she is required to prove that the emotional distress was intentionally inflicted upon her by the Defendant. When a Defendant is not even aware of the Plaintiff’s presence or does not commit the acts causing the distress with the intention of causing Plaintiff such distress, the Defendant has not intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon the Plaintiff.


The Court focuses on the Plaintiff’s failure even to allege the Defendants were intending to cause her to suffer emotional distress. While it was alleged that the Defendants intended to injure Plaintiff Gerlach, there are no allegations with regard to their intent to injure Plaintiff Taylor. Because Taylor suffered no physical injuries herself, she could only recover for emotional distress if the Defendants’ actions met the requirements for an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. Because Taylor did not allege the Defendants knew she was present or intended her to suffer from emotional distress, the dismissal was proper.

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