Falzone v. Busch (N.J. 1965)

Procedural History: The complaint alleges that defendant was driving his vehicle negligently, which caused plaintiff emotional distress. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendant, holding that it was constrained to follow N.J. precedent that there can be no recovery where there is no physical impact upon the plaintiff.

Facts: Charles Falzone was standing in a field adjacent to a roadway when he was struck and injured by defendant’s negligently driven vehicle. Mabel Falzone, wife of Charles, was seated in his lawfully parked automobile close to the place where her husband was struck and when the defendant’s automobile veered across the highway, it headed in the direction of the plaintiff, coming so close to plaintiff that she feared for her safety. As a direct result she became ill and required medical attention.

Issue: Should plaintiff, who was almost struck by a vehicle and who became violently sick, be able to recover against defendant who was driving negligently at the time, in a complaint for emotional damages?

Rules:

Physical impact upon the plaintiff has traditionally been necessary to sustain a negligence action.

Ward: [no liability for emotional damage claims without physical injury]

  1. Physical injury was no the natural and proximate result of the negligent act.
  2. No liability exists in the absence of impact [because it has been the consensus of the bar.]
  3. There would be a flood of litigations where damages must rest upon mere conjecture and speculation.

Application: The Supreme Court overrules the past precedent because their reasons are no longer “tenable.” Difficulty of proof should not bar the plaintiff from the opportunity of attempting to convince the trier of fact of the truth in the claim. The absence of suits and the concurrence of the bar with the rule of no liability does not hold any legal significance. There is no indication of an excessive number of actions of this type in other states which already allow it. “The fear of an expansion of litigation should not deter courts from granting relief in meritorious cases.”

Conclusion: Ward should not longer be followed. Where negligence causes fright from a reasonable fear of immediate personal injury, and which fright is adequately demonstrated to have resulted in substantial bodily injury or sickness, the injured person may recover is such bodily injury or sickness would be regarded as proper elements of damage had they occurred as a consequence of direct physical injury rather than fright.

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