New Hampshire Court Denies Claim for Boyfriend

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has held that a boyfriend riding a motorcycle could not bring an emotional distress claim against another driver for injuries caused as a result witnessing the death of his passenger (who was also his girlfriend).

The issue was "did the trial court err in determining that the plaintiff and MacDonald were not “closely related” so as to satisfy the requirements of Graves v. Estabrook, 149 N.H. 202 (2003), for bystander recovery in a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim?"

The Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the case, holding that the plaintiff and his late girlfriend were not "closely related."  They explained their decision as follows:

"In Graves, we held that the close relationship required by the Dillon test need not be one defined only by blood or marriage. Graves, 149 N.H. at 206. Instead, we determined that a plaintiff must show a relationship that is of significant duration and which is deep, lasting and genuinely intimate, i.e., a relationship that is stable, enduring, substantial, and mutually supportive, cemented by strong emotional bonds and providing a deep and pervasive emotional security. Id. at 209. When determining whether a plaintiff and a victim are “closely related,” the trial court is to take into account: (1) the duration of the relationship; (2) the degree of mutual dependence; (3) the extent of common contributions to a life together; (4) the extent and quality of shared experience; (5) whether the plaintiff and the injured person were members of the same household; (6) their emotional reliance upon each other; (7) the particulars of their day-to-day relationship; and (8) the manner in which they related to each other in attending to life’s mundane requirements. Id. at 209-10.
In Graves, we determined that the plaintiff had met the standard for alleging the existence of a sufficiently close relationship, in part, because she alleged that she and the decedent were engaged to be married and had lived together for more than seven years. Id. at 210. Construing all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, we determined that it was reasonable to infer that the plaintiff and her fiancée “enjoyed mutual dependence, common contributions to a life together, emotional reliance on each other and attended to life’s mundane requirements together.” Id.

[Conversely]. [t]he plaintiff and MacDonald were involved in a relationship lasting approximately six months. In that brief time, they did not live together and had not married or become engaged, nor was there any prospect of them doing so for some time. Moreover, at the time of MacDonald’s death, both she and the plaintiff were unemployed and living with their respective parents. Thus, they could not financially support each other, and it was unlikely that they could become members of the same household at any point in the foreseeable future, or that they could make any more than minimal contributions to a life together. Also, although the plaintiff contends that he and MacDonald met or spoke on the telephone frequently, and spent time dining out, camping or visiting relatives together, such interactions reveal little, if anything, about the particulars of their day-to-day relationship or the manner in which they related to each other in attending to life’s mundane requirements. To extend Graves to include relationships such as the one between the plaintiff and MacDonald
would invite a significant expansion of bystander liability in New Hampshire, a result we have consistently refused to permit. Graves, 149 N.H. at 205-06."

The case is St. Onge v. MacDonald,  No. 2006-317 (January 26, 2007).  Read the opinion  here.

Note: don’t let the name of the decedent and the name of the defendant confuse you.  Oddly, each of them shared the same last name.

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