Thursday, April 14, 2005
Appellate Panel Rejects Bid to Extend Emotional Distress Tort
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The right to sue for negligent infliction of emotional distress after witnessing an accident involving a family member does not apply if the injured person is not related to the plaintiff by blood or marriage, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Five affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Barbara M. Scheper’s dismissal of a suit by Martha Rodriguez. The plaintiff claimed she suffered emotional distress when she saw the defendant’s car strike and kill Catalina Macias as the 15-year-old crossed a Santa Clarita street.
Rodriguez, who was 14 when the May 2001 accident occurred, acknowledged that she and Macias were not related by blood or marriage. But they were, she claimed “de facto relatives,” since she and her mother lived with the Macias family, and the two girls shared a bedroom and had been very close since Rodriguez was six years old and called themselves sisters.
Justice Richard Mosk, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the claim was foreclosed by precedent. The California Supreme Court, he noted, has rejected similar claims brought by unmarried cohabitants of accident victims and has suggested that the right to recover requires that the plaintiff and the direct injury victim be “closely related,” meaning that the plaintiff must be the injured person’s parent, sibling, child, or grandparent or a more remote relative residing in the same household.
Remote relatives who do not reside in the same household may qualify if “exceptional circumstances” apply, Mosk acknowledged, according to a footnote in a Supreme Court opinion. But there is no basis, as the plaintiff argued, to extend this to persons who are not members of the family, even when there are strong emotional ties between the persons, Mosk insisted.
Attorneys on appeal were of Joseph M. Lovretovich for the plaintiff and Beverly I. Mills for the defendant.
The case is Rodriguez v. Kirchhoefel, B175505.
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