September 8, 2011
Emotional Distress Claims: Still Limited
In early 2010, a SeaWorld trainer, Dawn Brancheau, drowned during a public session ("Dinner with Shamu"). Among the members of the audience were Suzanne and Todd Connell and their son, who all witnessed the drowning and were, understandably, traumatized by the experience. The Connells filed suit against SeaWorld on behalf of their son (and, I think, themselves) for both intentional and negligence infliction of emotional distress.
Last week, a Florida judge dismissed their claims with prejudice, finding that they had failed to allege outrageous conduct by the park (for the intentional claim) and that they had failed to show any precedent supporting a negligence claim for purely emotional distress when the plaintiff was "a complete stranger to the injured party."
Since we're starting IIED in the next week or so in my Torts class, and the boundaries of emotional distress claims generally are a foundational theme to the class, it's a compelling set of facts for me -- and perhaps for you.
I'm trying to get a copy of the opinion and will post it here if so.
Here's the opinion: Download SeaWorldIIED [PDF].
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