Dillon v. Legg Case Brief

Dillon v. Legg Case Brief

Dillon v. Legg Case Brief


Introduction: Can a person recover for emotional distress because they saw a beloved one being harmed? In Dillon v. Legg, the Supreme Court of California established the possibility of recovery for emotional distress if the bystander was close to the accident and saw it. Also, the victim needs to have a close relationship with the bystander. The reason is simple: one suffers when they observe a beloved one suffering an accident.

Summary: This case set up the rule of reasonable foreseeable emotional distress caused to a bystander plaintiff. Negligent infliction of emotional distress liability depends on reasonable foreseeability, and it depends on three factors: i. the bystander needs to be close to the accident; ii. the emotional distress is a consequence of the observance of the accident; iii. the victim is closely related to the bystander.


1. Issue

  • I. Because of the defendant’s negligent actions, may he be responsible for causing reasonably foreseeable emotional distress to a bystander plaintiff who is outside the danger zone?

2. Facts

  • I. The defendant killed the plaintiff’s daughter driving a car
  • II. Mother and sister were nearby and saw it
  • III. The sister was closer to the accident than her mother

3. Procedural History

  • I. The mother’s claim for emotional distress was dismissed because she was outside the zone of danger; consequently, she did not fear about her safety
  • II. Sister’s claim was not dismissed as she may have feared for her safety
  • III. The mother filed an appeal

4. Rule

  • I. Negligent infliction of emotional distress liability depends on reasonable foreseeability

a. Factors:

  • i. Proximity to accident
  • aa. Close, instead of a certain distance from it
  • ii. The injury resulted from the observance of accident
  • aa. sensory and contemporary
  • iii. A person is closely related to the victim
  • aa. Not an absence of any relationship or the presence of only a distant one

5. Analysis

I. Holding:

  • a. The mother may recover for NIED after she has witnessed the death of her child by the defendant, even though she did not fear her own safety, because her injury even if she does not fear for her safety since her injuries were reasonably foreseeable to the defendant.

II. Reasoning:

  • a. She saw her daughter’s death:
  • i. Primary liability required for secondary liability
  • ii. The concepts of duty and breach can limit bystander recovery
  • b. She had emotional and physical trauma because of the observance of death
  • c. The mother and daughter had a close relationship
  • d. The damage was reasonably foreseeable
  • i. Factors determining foreseeability:
  • ii. Fact-finding
  • iii. “Zone of danger” is not the proper investigation
  • e. Courts can avoid fraudulent claims by proper decisions
  • i. The possibility of false claims should not prejudice legitimate claims

6. Dissent:

  • I. A plaintiff can only recover for emotional distress if she is in the zone of danger (Traynor)
  • II. The majority’s holding leaves many unanswered questions (Burke)


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Due process of Law: A Case Brief

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