SW Legal Educational Publishing

Aircraft Operators Not Liable for Emotional Distress Suffered by Witnesses of Plane Crash
Description California appeals court upheld the dismissal of suit brought by people who were in fear for their own lives as they saw a jet crashing. Although unhurt, the witnesses suffered emotion distress from viewing the crash and from being the first to the scene. No duty to them was violated by the plane operator or owner.
Topic Torts
Key Words Emotional Distress, Spectators
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Employees at a Honda dealership in California watched in horror as a corporate jet fell out of the sky. They feared for a moment that they would be hit by the jet. It did not injure any of them when it crashed, but they were the first to get to the scene. The employees sued the owners and operators for the "serious, substantial and enduring mental anguish" from witnessing the crash. Trial court dismissed the case. Employees appealed.
Decision Affirmed. There was no prior relationship between the parties. The jet captain apparently worked hard to have the jet crash so as not to hit people. The California supreme court has a seven-factor analysis to determine duty in tort law. Applying that test, no duty was violated by the airplane owners. In sum, "the duty of care imposed on airplane operators does not extend to the emotional distress suffered by physically untouched spectators of plane crashes, even spectators who, for a brief moment, reasonably fear for their own safety."
Citation Lawson v. Management Activities, Inc., --Cal.Rptr.2d-- (1999 WL 31456, Ct. App., 4th Dist., Calif.)
81 Cal.Rptr.2d 745 (Ct. App., Calif., 1999)

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