Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Live-in Girlfriend Is Not Considered "Closely Related" for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Claims

In the case of Lutz v. O’Connell, No. 729-CV-2023 (C.P. Col. Co. Oct. 26, 2023 Norton, J.), the court addressed the issue first impression on whether a live-in girlfriend could be considered to be “closely related” to the injured party so as to permit a recovery for the live-in girlfriend for negligent infliction of emotional distress she allegedly suffered when she observed the death of her paramour.

According to the Opinion, this case arose out of a fatal motor vehicle accident.

In the Complaint, it was alleged that the Plaintiff's decedent, who had died in the accident, and the girlfriend had lived together prior to the accident and considered themselves to be common-law husband and wife.

The subject accident occurred when a Defendant driver allegedly was proceeding in the wrong direction on Route 11 south and collided with the vehicle being operated by the now deceased Plaintiff boyfriend and then also striking the separate vehicle that was operated by the girlfriend.

 It was noted in the Opinion that, pursuant to 23 Pa. C.S.A. §1103, “no common-law marriage contracted after January 1, 2005, shall be valid.”  Based on this statue, the court found that the couple in this matter was not married under the doctrine of common-law marriage.

Judge Gary E. Norton of the Court of Common Pleas for Columbia and Montour County issued an Opinion in which he concluded that the boyfriend’s live-in girlfriend was not “closely related” as that term is used in the negligent infliction of emotional distress context.

The Judge reasoned, in part, that, if he were to have ruled otherwise, the nebulous question in this regard would focus on how close a couple was, which could lead trials to “devolved into contest as to the quality of the relationships” and would raise more problems for the court when trying to craft an appropriate jury instruction.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source: Article: “Live-In Girlfriend Can’t Sue For Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, PA Judge Rules in First Impression Case,” By Riley Brennan of the Pennsylvania Law Weekly (October 27, 2023).

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