South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Emotional Distress Suit May Be Brought By Witness to Murder-Suicide
Description Tennessee high court held that a witness to a murder-suicide that was clearly staged for the witness to observe may bring suit for emotional distress despite her lack of personal relationship with the parties involved.
Topic Torts
Key Words Emotional Distress; Outrageous Conduct; Relationship
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts While Lourcey was delivering mail, she encountered the Scarletts in the middle of a street. When she stopped to help, Charles Scarlett drew a pistol, shot his wife in the head. Then, looking at Lourcey, shot himself in the head. Lourcey sued the Scarlett estate for emotional distress, claiming that she suffers major depression from the incident and is unable to return to work. The trial court dismissed the complaint, but the appeals court reversed, ruling that the matter should go to trial. The estate appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. Scarlett's conduct was so outrageous as to support a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. While Lourcey did not have the usual "close relationship" required in an emotional distress case, the outrageous behavior was directed at her, which creates a cause of action. Since Lourcey has shown that she suffered serious mental injury from the actions, claim may proceed.

Citation Lourcey v. Estate of Scarlett, 146 S.W.3d 487 (Sup. Ct., Tenn., 2004)

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