|Dillon v. Legg|
|Court||Supreme Court of California|
|Full case name||Margery M. Dillon v. David Luther Legg|
|Decided||June 21 1968|
68 Cal.2d 728|
441 P.2d 912
69 Cal.Rptr. 72
29 A.L.R.3d 1316
|A bystander that suffers damages by the conduct of a negligent tortfeasor can recover for negligent infliction of emotional distress.|
|Chief Judge||Roger J. Traynor|
|Associate Judges||Mathew Tobriner, Raymond E. Peters, Stanley Mosk, Raymond L. Sullivan, Louis H. Burke, Marshal F. McComb|
|Majority||Tobriner, joined by Peters, Mosk, Sullivan|
|Dissent||Burke, joined by McComb|
Dillon v. Legg, 68 Cal. 2d 728 (1968), was a case decided by the Supreme Court of California that established the tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress. To date, it is the most persuasive decision of the most persuasive state supreme court in the United States during the latter half of the 20th century: Dillon has been favorably cited and followed by at least twenty reported out-of-state appellate decisions, more than any other California appellate decision in the period from 1940 to 2005.
A mother, Margery M. Dillon, and her daughter witnessed the death of her other child in a car accident caused by a negligent driver, David Luther Legg. The mother and daughter sued for emotional distress as a result of witnessing the accident. The accident occurred at the intersection of Bluegrass Road and Clover Lane, a residential area in Sacramento, where the Dillons lived. The trial court dismissed the claim under the prevailing zone of danger rule: the plaintiff needed to be in physical danger of the accident itself to recover for emotional distress.
The court relied on foreseeability to establish whether or not a negligent defendant owed a duty of care to a bystander. The court urged a case by case analysis of several factors to determine if foreseeability would create a duty to a bystander:
Using these criteria, the court determined that it was foreseeable that the negligent operation of an automobile could cause emotional distress to a mother witnessing the injury of her child in an accident.
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Traynor asserted that the case should have been decided according to the zone of danger rule enunciated in the case Amaya v. Home Ice, Fuel & Supply Co.
In dissent, Justice Burke asserted that the majority had adopted arguments that were previously rejected in Amaya. Burke criticized the guidelines offered by the majority as insufficient protection against possibly limitless liability. Burke viewed the limitations on liability inherent in the zone of danger rule as logical and necessary, and thought that such a pronounced change in liability rules should be adopted by the legislature and not the courts.
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