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MOTOR VEHICLE TORTS: Superior Court concludes that bystander emotional distress claim does not require physical presence at the scene of the injury

MOTOR VEHICLE TORTS: Superior Court Concludes That Bystander Emotional Distress Claim Does Not Require Physical Presence At The Scene Of The Injury

In this personal injury action, defendants moved to strike the plaintiff mother’s claim for bystander emotional distress predicated on allegations that she was talking on the cell phone with her daughter when the daughter was involved in a motor vehicle accident. The daughter, also a plaintiff, had contacted her mother by cell phone when her vehicle became disabled while she was driving on the highway; she was involved in an accident when the defendant driver allegedly struck the rear of her vehicle.

The defendants argued that the bystander emotional distress claim failed because the mother was not physically present at the scene of the accident, so that she could not satisfy the contemporaneous sensory perception element required under the Clohessy v. Bachelor, 257 Conn. 31 (1996) to state a claim for bystander emotional distress.

The trial court (Graham, J.), denies the motion, concluding that Clohessy does not require that a claimant be physically present, that the mother’s perception of the incident by way of the cell phone was both contemporaneous and sensory, and that “in this day and age, it is reasonably foreseeable that the driver of a disabled vehicle on the interstate will be on a cell phone to a loved one”. McCauliff v. Sharif, 2013 WL 1189309 (Conn. Super.)