Recently, the Court of Appeals of Indiana issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing the availability of emotional distress damages. Ultimately, the court found in favor of the plaintiff, allowing him to pursue emotional distress damages based on the loss of his wife as well as for the serious injuries his son suffered.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff in this case was a man who lost his wife in a tragic home explosion. His son was also seriously injured. According to the court’s opinion, Ceres, the defendant, refilled a propane tank at the plaintiff’s home. However, after filling the tank, Ceres failed to properly check the tank for leaks. The following morning, the plaintiff’s son turned a bedside lamp on, causing an explosion. The plaintiff’s son was able to escape the burning home through a basement window.
A few hours after the explosion, the plaintiff got off work and was driving home when he encountered a roadblock set up by a volunteer firefighter. The plaintiff could see his home was burning and obtained permission to proceed past the roadblock. He parked about 100 meters from his home and saw his son’s badly burned body on a gurney as he walked towards the home.
The plaintiff then learned that his wife could not be located. After continuing the search with the plaintiff present, a firefighter yelled out that they had found the plaintiff’s wife. The firefighters made the plaintiff leave as they removed her body from the burning home. The plaintiff did not see his wife’s body as it was removed.
The plaintiff filed a personal injury claim against Ceres, seeking, among other things, damages for emotional distress related to what he witnessed. The trial court permitted the plaintiff’s claim as it pertained to his son—because he saw his son’s injuries. However, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s emotional distress claim related to his wife, reasoning that he did not “observe” his wife being injured or the result of her injuries.
The Appellate Court’s Decision
Both the plaintiff and Ceres appealed. Ceres argued that the lower court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment relating to the plaintiff’s son. The plaintiff argued that the lower court erred in granting Ceres’ motion for summary judgment related to his wife.
The court began its analysis by noting that, to recover emotional distress damages, a plaintiff must meet the following criteria:
1.) They were on the scene at the time of the accident or immediately afterward;
2.) They were not informed of the event prior to arriving on the scene; and
3.) They witnessed the “injury-producing event.
Here, the court held that the plaintiff met each element for both his son and his wife. The court explained that, although the plaintiff did not witness his wife’s body being removed from the scene, he was subject to the “sudden sensory observation” when he heard firefighters calling out that they had found her body.
Have You Witnesses a Loved One Seriously Injured or Killed in an Accident?
If you observed a loved one experience serious or fatal injuries in an accident, you may be able to obtain monetary compensation through an Indiana personal injury lawsuit. At the Padove Law, our Indiana personal injury lawyer has decades of experience helping accident victims and their families recover the compensation they need and deserve in the wake of a serious accident. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, call Padove Law at 877-446-5294.