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Portee v. jaffee

From lawbrain.com

Portee v. Jaffee., 417 A. 2d 521 (N.J. 1980), is a classic torts case that looks at the extent to which a bystander can recover for emotional damages.

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Contents

Summary of Case Facts

Plaintiff parent seeks to recover damages for the emotional anguish associated with watching her young child suffer and die in an accident caused by the defendant’s negligence. Plaintiff and her son Guy lived in the defendant’s apartment building. Guy became trapped in the elevator door and the wall of the elevator shaft and was dragged up to the third floor. Mother stood by and could hear her son’s moans and cries and saw him die while the paramedics tried to save him. After Guy’s death, the plaintiff became severely depressed and self- destructive. Plaintiff made a suicide attempt on her life and sought psychological help for her troubles.

Issue

Should liability exist where there was no potential for personal injury, but distress was resulted from perceiving the negligently inflicted injuries of others?

Holding and Law

The court in this case applied the 3 part Dillon test: 1.)Whether the plaintiff was located near the scene of the accident as contrasted with one who was distanced away? As the physical proximity between the plaintiff and the scene of the accident increases, the foreseeable likelihood that the plaintiff will suffer emotional harm from apprehending the physical harm of another increases. 2.)Whether the shock resulting from a direct emotional impact upon the plaintiff from the sensory and contemporaneous observance of the accident, as contrasted with learning of the accident from others after its occurrence -must be traumatic distress occasioned by immediate perception 3.)Whether the plaintiff and the victim were closely related, as contrasted with an absence of any relationship or the presence of only a distant relationship?only the most profound emotional interests should receive vindication for their negligent injury. Also the nature of the injury must be the perception of death or serious physical injury.

In the end, the court found he third element to be the most important and the existence of marital or intimate familial relationship as an essential element of a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress. To avoid imposing liability in excess of culpability, the scope of recovery must be circumscribed to negligent conduct, which strikes at the basic emotional security of the plaintiff. In order for the second element to apply, the death at the scene must be observed.

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