“severe emotional distress” – distress “such that no reasonable man should be expected to endure it.”
Procedural History: Gammon sued hospital for negligently conducting operations. The trial court granted a directed verdict for defendant. The case is remanded consistent with the opinion.
Facts: Plaintiff’s father died in defendant’s hospital and when he received a bag of supposed personal effects, it contained a bloodied leg, severed below the knee which was bluish in color. The leg was supposed to be a pathology specimen and was of another patient. Plaintiff began having nightmares, his personality was affected, and his relationship declined between him and his wife and children. He began to improve after several months and never received medical or psychiatric attention.
Issue: In circumstances where a severed leg is mislabeled as a decedent’s personal effects and a family member encounters the severed leg but does not seek medical treatment or is not physically impacted, is plaintiff able to recover for negligent infliction of severe emotional distress?
Rules: The law provides compensation when the emotional distress is intentionally or recklessly inflicted, when the emotional distress results from physical injury negligently inflicted, or when negligently inflicted emotional distress results in physical injury.
Application: Where it can be proven that the emotional distress was severe, even if it was not caused by physical conduct and the distress did not cause physical injury, a plaintiff should be able to recover for emotional damages.
Conclusion: Gammon should be able to claim for compensation for severe emotional distress where the defendant reasonably should have foreseen that mental distress would result from his negligence.