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Justice for Emotional Distress: The Dillon v. Legg Case

Whose lives are changed by accidents? Someone who witnesses an accident may never be the same again emotionally. In 1968 the story of a mother who witnessed nearby as a car accident killed her daughter came before the Supreme Court of California. Was her emotional distress something the justice system would make right?

The Tragic Accident

Margery Dillon lost her daughter, Erin, on September 27, 1964. Margery was outside her house, her other daughter, Cheryl, was sitting on the curb, and Erin was crossing the street. David Legg’s car collided with the 2 year-old there, who shortly passed from her injuries. Both Margery and Cheryl witnessed the tragedy.

Margery sued Legg for Cheryl’s emotional distress and for her own. However, the trial court only allowed Cheryl’s claim. Cheryl was in the β€œzone of danger” because she could have also been physically harmed by Legg while she was sitting on the curb. Margery was never at risk of impact. That was the rule at the time.

A Fairer Rule

Margery’s lawyers argued a selfless mother does not have to be in the zone of danger to feel emotional trauma after witnessing this kind of tragedy. A fairer rule holds careless drivers responsible for all harm that was reasonably foreseeable at the time of an accident.

Did this rule help Margery? Her lawyers pointed out when a child crosses the road, a mother is likely watching nearby. When Legg hit Erin, he could reasonably foresee it devastating her mother. That argument seemed right to the Supreme Court of California. It got Margery some measure of justice.

Emotional Distress Laws in Nevada

The Supreme Court of Nevada adopted the Dillon rule in its own case from 1986, State v. Eaton. The Court ruled that claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress should be evaluated using this set of factors that apply whether:

Compassionate Representation

Sometimes justice is not readily available to all victims of a tragedy. Sometimes it takes lawyers with a passion for what’s right to get what you deserve. Sam & Ash is not an ordinary personal injury law firm. We are advocates who believe in improving your life after an accident. You deserve to know how we can help, so call us for answers at 702-820-1234.

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