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BODILY INJURY: CT Supreme Court recognizes bystander emotional distress in medical malpractice context

Outside the medical malpractice context a tort plaintiff seeking to recover for bystander emotional distress must prove: (1) the bystander is closely related to the primary victim of the accident or injury, (2) the bystander’s emotional distress is caused by the contemporaneous sensory perception of the event or conduct that causes the accident or injury, or by arriving on the scene soon thereafter and before substantial change has occurred in the primary victim’s condition or location, (3) the primary victim dies or sustains serious physical injury, and (4) the bystander experiences serious emotional distress as a result.

In now recognizing the cause of action in the medical malpractice context, the Court clarifies that the fourth element is satisfied only when the bystander suffers injuries that are severe and debilitating such that they warrant a psychiatric diagnosis or otherwise substantially impair the bystander’s ability to cope with life’s daily routines and demands.

Additionally, the Court holds that medical malpractice bystander emotional distress claims will satisfy the first element only when the injuries result from gross negligence that is readily apparent to a lay observer.

In the case before it, the Court affirms summary judgment for the defendants who had allegedly discharged the plaintiffs’ son from psychiatric care prematurely, resulting in the son committing suicide 30 minutes after discharge.  The trial court found no material issue of fact as to the plaintiffs’ inability to satisfy the fourth element where they required no medication and no prolonged mental health care, and remained steadily employed following the incident.

Squeo v. Norwalk Hosp. Ass’n, 316 Conn. 558 (April 28, 2015)