D was speeding. His car flew into the air and traveled 200 feet beyond the edge of the road, shearing off a utility pole.
This snapped high voltage lines, striking the electrical lines leading into Ps' house and causing a great electrical explosion and property damage.
Ps sued for traumatic neurosis, emotional disturbance, and nervous upset suffered as a result of the explosion.
Trial court granted directed verdict.
Ct of Appeals affirmed on the ground that MI law denies recovery for negligently caused emotional disturbance absent a showing of physical impact on the P.
S. Ct. reversed and remanded for a new trial based on the new rule.
Absent a physical impact on the P, can a D be liable for emotional disturbance caused by his negligent actions?
Where a definite and objective physical injury is produced as a result of emotional distress proximately caused by D's negligent conduct, P may recover in damages for such physical consequences. The rule is subject to limitations:
Absent knowledge of the P's unusual sensitivity, there should be no recovery where a normal individual would not be affected under the circumstances.
Further, P has burden that the physical harm is the natural result of the fright caused by D's conduct.
Recovery for mental disturbance caused by D's negligence has been generally denied absent an immediate physical injury.
Case history shows that no recovery can be had for mere fright, nor for injuries resulting from the fright.
However, a rapidly increasing majority of courts have repudiated the "requirement of impact" and have regarded the physical consequences themselves or the circumstances of the accident as sufficient.
In this case, there is sufficient facts from which a jury could reasonably find, or infer therefrom, a causal relationship between the fright occasioned by D's negligence and the injuries alleged in the P's complaint. Therefore, the case should go to trial.
Plaintiffs did not suffer definite and objective physical injury.
Ps suffered, if anything, indefinite and subjective injury.
These are the very type of complaints which ought to be eliminated by restricting "no impact" cases to those in which a definite and objective physical injury occurs.
New rule - Definite physical injury instead of physical impact.