Clohessy v. Bachelor

In Clohessy v. Bachelor, 237 Conn. 31, 33 n.4, 675 A.2d 852 (1996) the Court concluded that when certain conditions are satisfied, "both the parent and the sibling of the tort victim may recover damages for the negligent infliction of emotional distress." Clohessy v. Bachelor, supra 237 Conn. 32. The tort is sometimes referred to as bystander emotional distress. In Clohessy, the plaintiffs, the mother and brother of a seven year old boy, witnessed the boy's death as the family crossed a street in a marked crosswalk on Hillhouse Avenue at its intersection with Trumbull Street in New Haven. The defendant had operated his motor vehicle at an excessive speed on Trumbull Street and caused the exterior side view mirror to strike the boy and throw him to the ground. The mother and brother suffered serious emotional injuries as a result of witnessing the boy's fatal head wounds. Id., 33-34. In recognizing a claim for bystander emotional distress, the Clohessy court reexamined the history of the cause of action in this jurisdiction and the legal theories under which other jurisdictions have adopted it. The Court rejected the zone of danger limitation on bystander emotional distress in favor of the reasonable foreseeability theory because bystander emotional distress is reasonably foreseeable. Id., 46-49. The court identified four criteria that must be alleged to state a claim for bystander emotional distress: The bystander must be closely related to the injured victim; id., 52; the bystander's emotional injury must be caused by a contemporaneous sensory perception of the event or the conduct that causes the injury, or by witnessing the victim immediately after the injury to the victim if no material change has occurred with respect to the victim's location and condition; id.; the injury to the victim must be substantial, resulting in either death or serious physical injury; id., 53; and the bystander must sustain a serious emotional injury, which is a reaction beyond that to be anticipated in a disinterested witness and which is not an abnormal response to the injury producing event. Id. 54.