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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court posts one (so far) today

In Atlantic Coast Airlines, Delta Airlines and Globe Security Services, Inc. v. Bryan & Jennifer Cook, a 14-page, 5-0 opinion involving an interlocutory appeal from the Marion Superior Court, Justice Rucker writes:

In an action to recover damages for the negligent infliction of emotional distress, Indiana’s modified impact rule requires a claimant to demonstrate a direct physical impact resulting from the negligence of another. Where the physical impact is slight, or the evidence of the physical impact is tenuous, we evaluate the alleged emotional distress to determine whether it is not likely speculative, exaggerated, fictitious, or unforeseeable. In this case, we conclude that the emotional distress or mental anguish allegedly suffered by the plaintiffs is speculative, and thus their claim for emotional distress damages must fail.

This case arises from a passenger’s behavior onboard an aircraft five months after the September 11th terrorist hijackings of airplanes and less than two months after Richard Reid lit a match onboard a flight from Paris to Miami and attempted to detonate explosives hidden in his shoe. * * *

Apparently the alleged mental and emotional distress the Cooks experienced manifested itself in fear and anxiety at the time the events were unfolding. But this fear and anxiety were transitory, disappearing once the Cooks completed their flight. Since that time, in their own words, the Cooks have experienced feelings of being “bothered,” “concerned,” and “nervous.” But these feelings about the world around us in general and air travel in particular is the plight of many citizens in this country, living as we do in a post-September 11 environment. * * *

We do not suggest that the Cooks’ fear and anxiety during the flight were trivial. But there was simply nothing before the trial court, and by extension before this Court, suggesting that the Cooks’ fear and anxiety were anything other than temporary. And it is pure speculation to assume that the Cooks’ later feelings of being bothered, concerned, and nervous are causally related to the events aboard the flight. Because the physical impact in this case was slight to nonexistent, allowing an emotional distress claim to proceed based on the Cooks’ lingering mental anguish would essentially abrogate the requirements of Indiana’s modified impact rule. In essence we view the alleged mental anguish here as speculative. Accordingly the trial court erred in denying Atlantic Coast’s motion for summary judgment on this issue.

Conclusion. We affirm the trial court’s denial of Atlantic Coast’s motion for summary judgment on the question of federal preemption. We reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Atlantic Coast on the Cooks’ breach of contract claim. And we reverse the trial court’s denial of Atlantic Coast’s motion for summary judgment on the Cooks’ claim for emotional distress damages. This cause is remanded.

There are several earlier ILB entries on this case.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 6, 2006 11:26 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions