For the most part, if someone does something negligent and someone gets hurt, they are only liable to the injured party. However, under some conditions, they can also be liable to the people close to the injured party because those people are emotionally injured because their loved one has been hurt. However, there are a number of limitations a plaintiff must overcome in order to recover for emotional distress. These limitations were spelled out in the case of Thing v. LaChusa (48 Cal.3d 644, 257 Cal.Rptr. 865, 771 P.2d 814 (1989)). In that case, Mrs. Thing heard that her child had been hit by an car. She rushed to the scene to see the boy unconscious in the road. She sued for emotional distress, but lost. The Court concluded in order to be eligible to recover for emotional distress caused by observing a negligently inflicted injury to a third person, the plaintiff must:

  • Be “closely related” to the injured party.
  • Is present at the scene of the injury and is aware of the event.
  • As a result, suffers serious emotional distress.

Similarly, in the case of Bird v. Saenz (28 Cal.4th 910, 123 Cal.Rptr.24 465, P.3d 324, 123 Cal.Rptr.2d 465 (2002)), Bird and her brother waited outside an operating room while their mother died due to negligent medical care. The Court said that they could not recover for emotional distress, because even though they knew what was happening, they could not physically see their mother at the time the negligent infliction of harm occurred.

  • Basically, if you want to recover, you have to be at the scene, you can’t hear about the accident later.