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§54.5 “Stand Alone” Cases

The Case: Camper v. Minor , 915 S.W.2d 437 (Tenn. 1996).

The Basic Facts: Plaintiff, a truck driver, was involved in a fatal accident with another vehicle at an intersection and subsequently exited his truck and viewed the body. Plaintiff brought an action for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) against the owner of the car with which Plaintiff collided and the administrator of the deceased driver's estate.

The Bottom Line:

  • "This case presents two issues for our determination: (1) whether a non-negligent driver who suffered no substantial physical injury may recover for emotional injuries under the facts presented in this case; and (2) whether the 'family purpose doctrine' survives the adoption of comparative negligence and the abolition of joint and several liability." 915 S.W.2d at 438.
  • "We nevertheless agree with the plaintiff here and with many other jurisdictions that the time has come to abandon the rigid and overly formulaic 'physical manifestation' or 'injury' rule. This rule has proved to be inflexible and inadequate in practice; and, as noted in the preceding section, it completely ignores the fact that some valid emotional injuries simply may not be accompanied by a contemporaneous physical injury or have physical consequences." Id. at 446.
  • "We conclude that these cases should be analyzed under the general negligence approach discussed above. In other words, the plaintiff must present material evidence as to each of the five elements of general negligence -- duty, breach of duty, injury or loss, causation in fact, and proximate, or legal, cause, Kilpatrick v. Bryant, 868 S.W.2d 594, 598 (Tenn. 1993); Bradshaw v. Daniel, 854 S.W.2d 865, 869 (Tenn. 1993) -- in order to avoid summary judgment. Furthermore, we agree that in order to guard against trivial or fraudulent actions, the law ought to provide a recovery only for 'serious' or 'severe' emotional injury. Burgess v. Superior Court (Gupta), 831 P.2d 1197, 1200 (Cal. 1992); St. Elizabeth Hosp. v. Garrard, 730 S.W.2d 649, 653 (Tx. 1987). A 'serious' or 'severe' emotional injury occurs 'where a reasonable person, normally constituted, would be unable to adequately cope with the mental stress engendered by the circumstances of the case.' Rodrigues v. State, 472 P.2d 509, 520 (Haw. 1970); Paugh v. Hanks, 451 N.E.2d 759, 765 (Ohio 1983); Plaisance v. Texaco, Inc., 937 F.2d 1004, 1010 (5th Cir. 1991); [Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts, § 54, at 364-65, n. 60]. Finally, we conclude that the claimed injury or impairment must be supported by expert medical or scientific proof. See Leong v. Takasaki, 520 P.2d 758, 766-67 (Haw. 1974)('the plaintiff should be permitted to prove medically the damages occasioned by his mental responses to defendant's negligent act')." Id.

Other Sources of Note: In Flax v. DiamlerChrysler Corp., 272 S.W.3d 521 (Tenn. 2008), the Tennessee Supreme Court held that a mother who was in a vehicle and witnessed her son experience severe injuries (from which he later died) could not maintain a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim because she did not present expert medical or scientific proof that she suffered severe emotional distress as a result of witnessing the event. This was true even though she filed a wrongful death claim on behalf of her son and even though she had minor personal injuries. Readers who are filing or defending a NEID case are encouraged to read this opinion. Estate of Amos v. Vanderbilt University, 62 S.W.3d 133 (Tenn. 2001) (explaining that expert proof is not required in parasitic claims)

Recent Cases: 

Rye v. Women’s Care Center of Memphis, PLLC, No. W2013-00804-SC-R11-CV, 2015 WL 6457768, ---S.W.3d --- (Tenn. Oct. 26, 2015) (granting summary judgment as to wife’s claim because there was no genuine issue regarding whether she suffered severe mental distress, and granting summary judgment as to husband’s claim because it was a stand alone claim and he had offered no expert proof); Bazemore v. Performance Food Group, Inc., No. E2014-01877-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 4575233 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 30, 2015) (affirming summary judgment on negligent infliction of emotional distress claim where there was no indication that plaintiff sought medical or psychological treatment); Riley v. Orr, No. M2009-01215-COA-R3-CV, 2010 WL 2350475 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 11, 2010) (granting a remittitur as to plaintiff father’s award for emotional injury damages finding testimony of counsel did not support severe or serious emotional injury to justify amount of award; reversing award for plaintiff son’s emotional injury because son did not suffer physical injury and did not introduce requisite proof through an expert that he suffered a severe emotional injury).

Filson v. Seton Corporation , No. M2006-02301-COA-R9-CV, 2009 WL 196048 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 27, 2009) (affirming summary judgment on negligent infliction of emotional distress claim finding plaintiffs did not submit the necessary proof to maintain a stand-alone claim); Wilson v. Ours, No. M2006-02703-COA-R3-CV, 2008 WL 4211117 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 3, 2008) (holding award of damages for emotional injuries was error where (1) plaintiffs' claims were stand-alone claims in absence of physical injuries and plaintiffs presented no expert proof; (2) defendant did not cause underlying death; and, (3) defendant's conduct was not extreme or outrageous).

After an accident, many injury victims and their families want more information on the accident and their legal rights. Consequently, many of them have found their way to these pages. While we are happy you are here, please understand Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law was written to be a quick, invaluable reference for Tennessee tort lawyers. While the book provides the leading case for more than 300 tort law subjects and thousands of related case citations, it is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

Rather than researching these legal issues alone, we urge you to contact one of our award-winning lawyers who can sit down with you, review your case, answer your questions and clearly explain your rights and your options in a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced attorneys handle all personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency basis, so we only get paid if we win. If for any reason you are unable to come to our office, we will gladly come to you.

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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.

To order a copy of the book, visit www.dayontortsbook.com. John also blogs regularly on key issues for tort lawyers. To subscribe to the Day on Torts blog, visit www.dayontorts.com.

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