In a recent case where plaintiff was seeking damages for emotional injuries, the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for defendant, holding that plaintiff could not recover for negligent infliction of emotional distress when the claim was based on the negligent destruction of property.
In Lane v. Estate of Leggett, No. M2016-00448-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 29, 2017), plaintiff owned an antique and gift shop. Defendant was driving when he rear-ended the car in front of him, veered off the road, and ran into plaintiff’s store. During the accident, defendant hit a gas meter, causing a fire that completely destroyed plaintiff’s store and killed defendant. Plaintiff was not at the store when the accident occurred but arrived shortly after the fire began.
Plaintiff brought suit against the defendant’s estate for negligence resulting in property damage and emotional injuries (the property damage claim was dismissed under the doctrine of prior suit pending, as a case had already been filed by the relevant insurance company). The complaint stated that “as a result of observing the fire and the circumstances surrounding the same, including having narrowly escaped being present when the incident occurred, the Plaintiff has been caused severe mental and emotional injuries and has had to seek the assistance of a psychologist and psychiatrist…and has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Anxiety.” Defendant moved for summary judgment on the claims for emotional injuries, asserting that plaintiff was claiming negligent infliction of emotional distress, and that such a claim “is not a cause of action intended to permit recovery for emotional distress arising in connection with property damage.” The trial court granted summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.