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§54.3 Proof in Parasitic Claims

The Case: Amos v. Vanderbilt University , 62 S.W.3d 133 (Tenn. 2001).

The Basic Facts: A patient who became infected with HIV as a result of a blood transfusion during surgery and her husband sued the hospital at which the surgery was performed for wrongful birth of their daughter, negligent failure to warn of the risk for contracting HIV, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The Bottom Line:

  • "We granted appeal in this case to determine whether the special proof requirements of Camper v. Minor, 915 S.W.2d 437, 446 (Tenn. 1996), extend to all negligence claims in which damages for emotional distress are sought as an item of compensatory damages. We hold that the special proof requirements of Camper apply only to 'stand-alone' claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress. We further hold that Vanderbilt University Medical Center owed a duty to warn Julie Amos of her potential exposure to HIV so that she might take appropriate measures to protect third parties. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the trial court's judgment in this case." 62 S.W.3d at 134-35.
  • "In Camper v. Minor, 915 S.W.2d 437 (Tenn. 1996), this Court addressed the proper analysis of claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress without an accompanying physical injury. The plaintiff, Camper, was involved in an automobile accident in which a sixteen-year-old driver, Taylor, was killed when she pulled out in front of Camper's cement truck. Id. at 439. Camper filed suit against the administrator of Taylor's estate seeking damages for emotional injuries sustained as a result of viewing Taylor's body immediately following the accident. Id. Camper testified in his deposition that he suffered no physical injuries, other than a small scrape on his knee for which he received no medical treatment. Id." Id. at 136.
  • "This Court examined the law of negligent infliction of emotional distress in Tennessee and in other jurisdictions. Id. at 440‑46. We abandoned the traditional "physical manifestation" rule previously applied in Tennessee. Id. at 446. Instead, we concluded that cases of negligent infliction of emotional distress should be analyzed under the 'general negligence' approach. Id. In order to make out a prima facie case of negligent infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff must prove the elements of duty, breach of duty, injury or loss, causation in fact, and proximate cause. Id. The Court further held that recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress is limited to serious or severe emotional injury supported by expert medical or scientific proof. Id." Id.
  • "Vanderbilt contends that Camper's requirements of expert medical or scientific proof and serious or severe injury extend to all negligence claims resulting in emotional injury. We disagree. The special proof requirements in Camper are a unique safeguard to ensure the reliability of 'stand-alone' negligent infliction of emotional distress claims. Camper, 915 S.W.2d at 440; see also Miller v. Willbanks, 8 S.W.3d 607, 614 (Tenn. 1999). The subjective nature of 'stand-alone' emotional injuries creates a risk for fraudulent claims. Miller, 8 S.W.3d at 614 ('legitimate concerns of fraudulent and trivial claims are implicated when a plaintiff brings an action for a purely mental injury'); see Camper, 915 S.W.2d at 440. The risk of a fraudulent claim is less, however, in a case in which a claim for emotional injury damages is one of multiple claims for damages. When emotional damages are a 'parasitic' consequence of negligent conduct that results in multiple types of damages, there is no need to impose special pleading or proof requirements that apply to 'stand-alone' emotional distress claims. See Kush v. Lloyd, 616 So. 2d 415, 422‑23 (Fla. 1992); see also Naccash v. Burger, 290 S.E.2d 825, 831 (Va. 1982); Phillips v. United States, 575 F. Supp. 1309, 1318‑19 (D.S.C. 1983)." Id. at 136-37.
  • "Even before Camper, a plaintiff could recover for emotional injuries as one of several items of compensatory damages. See, e.g., Smith v. Gore, 728 S.W.2d 738, 751‑52 (Tenn. 1987) (in an action for wrongful pregnancy, plaintiffs could recover damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of wages, and emotional distress or mental anguish); Laxton v. Orkin Exterminating Co., Inc., 639 S.W.2d 431, 431, 434 (Tenn. 1982) (damages allowed for mental anguish, personal injury, and property damages resulting from the negligent contamination of plaintiffs' water supply); Roberson v. Univ. of Tenn., 829 S.W.2d 149, 152 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992) (damages for gender discrimination included actual damages, damages for emotional distress, attorneys' fees, costs, and punitive damages). Before Camper, however, Tennessee courts did not allow recovery for mental injuries 'without accompanying physical injury or physical consequences, or without other independent basis for tort liability.' Laxton, 639 S.W.2d at 433. The Camper holding contemplated a plaintiff who was involved in an incident and received only emotional injuries. With its abandonment of the 'physical manifestation' rule, the Camper Court opened the door for legitimate 'stand-alone' claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress. See [Laura J. Bradley, Case Note, Bain v. Wells, 936 S.W.2d 618 (Tenn. 1997), 65 Tenn. L. Rev. 293, 305]. The Camper holding did not alter the longstanding rule that emotional injuries are compensable if accompanied by additional claims for damages. Imposing the more stringent Camper proof requirements upon all negligence claims resulting in emotional injury would severely limit the number of otherwise compensable claims. Such a result would be contrary to the intent of our opinion in Camper-to provide a more adequate, flexible rule allowing compensation for valid "stand-alone" emotional injury claims. Camper, 915 S.W.2d at 446." Id. at 137.
  • "In this case, the Amoses asserted three causes of action against Vanderbilt: wrongful birth, negligent failure to warn, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Their claims for wrongful birth and negligent failure to warn included a request for damages for emotional injuries stemming from those causes of action as well as a request for other damages. Their request for damages for emotional injuries is not a 'stand-alone' claim and, therefore, is not subject to the special evidentiary requirements of Camper. This is not a case, like Camper, in which the damages alleged are for mental anguish alone. We therefore reverse that portion of the Court of Appeals' opinion holding that the Amoses failed to present adequate proof of their emotional injuries." Id. at 137-38.

Other Sources of Note: Isabel v. Velsicol Chemical Co. , 327 F.Supp.2d 915, 920 (W.D. Tenn. 2004) (holding that a clam for negligent infliction of emotional distress should be allowed in cases where the defendant's negligence results in the plaintiff ingesting an indefinite amount of a harmful substance because in such cases, the finder of fact may conclude that the plaintiff has sustained a sufficient physical injury to support an award of damages even if medical diagnosis fails to reveal any other physical injury); Laxton v. Orkin Exterminating Co., Inc., 639 S.W.2d 431 (Tenn. 1982) (holding that plaintiffs parents could recover for their concern and anxiety for welfare of themselves and their infant children after ingesting water contaminated by the defendant); Riley v. Whybrew, 185 S.W.3d 393, 401 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005) (holding the plaintiff's claim for damages for emotional distress was not a stand-alone claim and the Camper requirement of expert medical or scientific proof was not applicable when the defendant landlord negligently allowed his tenants' to engage in illegal activities).

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

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