TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

What Would Learned Hand Do?

(Maybe I'll start up a whole "WWLHD" shop with t-shirts, bracelets, etc.)  (If that doesn't make sense to you, don't worry.)

Yesterday's NPR story (some discussion in this SLC Tribune piece too) on the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on mine safety included some interesting bits that were good discussion points in my Torts class last night and might be interesting for others too:

There was a lot of discussion in the hearings about technological solutions, including a Blackberry-like device that would allow wireless text communications with miners, providing updates, instructions as to how to get out, etc.  The system costs about $750 per miner; it apparently contributed to saving the lives of 45 miners in Utah -- see this MSHA chronology for a fascinating narrative of that fire as well as pictures of the devices.  A tracking system runs about $20 per miner (according to the SLC Tribune piece above).  How do you end up doing the B<PL math on those devices, keeping in mind that at least some people say they lack reliability?

14 mines (out of I think 700 nationwide, though I may have that number wrong) have adopted the text messaging devices.  Hello, TJ Hooper!

Changing tracks a bit, consider the plight of the family members who were first told their loved ones were alive only to learn hours later the tragic truth.  While they may have some redress for their loved ones' deaths in survival and wrongful death actions, their emotional distress (which was almost certainly exacerbated by the false hope) provides a good starting point for a discussion of emotional harm without physical impact. 

By coincidence, we're now discussing Armstrong v. Paoli Memorial Hospital, 649 A.2d 666 (Pa. 1994), in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied negligent infliction of emotional distress recovery to a woman who was wrongfully informed that her husband had suffered a critical head injury.  I think it's fair to say that the students in my class were at least somewhat uncomfortable with there being no potential for liability against the people responsible for the misinformation. 

And what about intentional infliction of emotional distress, given its reckless disregard standard?  How does the mental state here compare to that of the physician in Chuy v. Philadelphia Eagles Football Club, 595 F.2d 1265 (3d Cir. 1979), who inaccurately told a sports columnist that a football player had a life-threatening condition (rather than the much more mundane condition he actually had)?

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