Monday, September 16, 2019

Seeing Accident of Loved One on IPhone App Map Does Not Support Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Claim

In the case of Jenson v. St. Louis, No. 3:19-cv-00515 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 9, 2019 Munley, J.), the court granted in part and denied in part a Motion to Dismiss a Plaintiff’s negligent infliction of emotional distress claim in a fatal trucking accident matter.  

According to the Opinion, prior to the day of the accident, the decedent would always call his fiance when he arrived at work.  On the day of the accident, when the decedent did not call, his fiance used a smartphone application to locate the decedent's cellular phone.  The application displayed a map that indicated that the phone, and therefore, the decedent, were located at the scene of a crash.

The Plaintiff-fiance alleged in the Complaint that she suffered a direct and immediate shock by this contemporaneous and sensory observance of the fatal collision through her iPhone.

Judge James M. Munley of the Federal Middle District Court found that these facts did not support an allegation of the required contemporaneous perception element of a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress. 

The Court emphasized that the Plaintiff did not witness the accident but only saw a reporting of the accident on her phone after the fact.  This was found to be insufficient to support the element of contemporaneous observance of an accident necessary to support a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress.  

The court analogized this case to those cases in which this type of claim was dismissed where a plaintiff received a phone call from a hospital indicating that a loved one had been in an accident.

Given his ruling on this aspect of the claim, Judge Munley did not reach the issue of whether this Plaintiff's status as the fiance of the decedent was a close enough relationship to support the requirement under the claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress that one suffer from a contemporaneous observance of an injury to a close relative in order to present such a claim.

The court allowed the remaining claims by other Plaintiffs to proceed, including a claim of punitive damages in a case where a trucker attempted to merge back onto the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike under dark conditions and with no lights illuminating the sides of the trailer portion of the tractor trailer at the time of the accident.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.  Here is a LINK to the companion Order.

I send thanks to Attorney James A. Beck of the Philadelphia office of the Reed Smith law firm for bringing this case to my attention. 

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