In recent news in the area of personal injury law reported in Virginia Lawyers Weekly, a mediation in Fairfax County Circuit Court resulted in a settlement of $1 million for the plaintiff. The plaintiff in the case was a back seat passenger in a car traveling in Oakton, Virginia following a night out with friends. The car left the road and crashed into utility pole and a tree. The plaintiff suffered injuries to her back which resulted in surgeries as well as ongoing treatments for both the injury and for pain. The issue during mediation was whether the plaintiff had assumed the risk by getting into a car with a driver who had been drinking and who was charged with driving under the influence following the accident. While the defendant admitted he had consumed as many as six drinks over the course of the evening, independent witnesses testified that he appeared fine. Following mediation, the plaintiff was awarded $1 million.
No Physical Injury Defeats Distress Claim—As reported in Virginia Lawyers Weekly, Greyhound prevails on its Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss an amended complaint for negligent infliction of emotional distress filed in the U.S. District Court, Roanoke, by parents of a minor who bought a Greyhound ticket without presenting an unaccompanied minor form, as required by company policy.
On April 8, 2016, plaintiff’s 13-year old son, walked two miles from his home to the Greyhound bus station in Max Meadows, Virginia, at 3 a.m., bought a ticket to Brooklyn with his father’s pistol in his pocket, waited an hour for the bus and then boarded. The next morning, his mother noticed he was missing, his father learned his pistol was missing and they notified the Wythe County Sheriff’s Office. Upon determining that their son was on a Greyhound bus headed north, the parents contacted Greyhound for additional information. They claimed that Greyhound was uncooperative. The NYPD joined forces with the Wythe County Sheriff and the minor was arrested at 7:30 p.m. in Manhattan for carrying a loaded firearm.
The plaintiffs sued Greyhound for negligent infliction of emotional distress and filed an amended complaint on June 1, 2017. In response, Greyhound filed a motion to dismiss. Virginia law governs the claim. To prevail on a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff must prove, among other elements, that the wrongdoer inflicted emotional distress “so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.” The standard for negligent infliction of emotional distress is even more rigorous. To survive a motion to dismiss in a case such as this, plaintiffs must plead sufficient facts to establish that they suffered a physical injury that was the natural result of fright or shock proximately caused by the defendant’s negligence. More specifically, a successful claim requires evidence of symptoms or manifestations of physical injury, not merely of an underlying emotional disturbance.
Plaintiffs claimed they suffered “extreme stress” as a result of Greyhound’s actions, which were manifested as physical shaking, interrupted sleep, panic attacks, and altered eating habits. Additionally, they allege that the father’s blood pressure has, at times, been elevated and erratic since the incident.
The court agrees with Greyhound that the conditions described by the plaintiffs do not satisfy the physical injury requirement applicable to negligent infliction of emotional distress claims. The symptoms claimed by plaintiffs are more indicative of an underlying emotional disturbance, rather than a physical injury. Relying on Myseros v. Sissler, the court finds that plaintiffs’ allegations are insufficient to state plausible claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Greyhound’s motion to dismiss is granted.
McClary v. Greyhound Lines, Inc. (Conrad) No. 7:17cv00098, Aug. 29, 2017 USDC at Roanoke, Va.; (VLW 017-3-434).