Estrada v. Aeronaves de Mexico, SA. (9ththCir.).
Facts. On the morning of August 31, 1986, Theresa Estrada left her home near Cerritos, California, to go shopping at a nearby grocery store. She left her husband at home reading the newspaper, and her three children were still in bed. Returning from the store, Estrada saw, heard, and felt a big explosion. Within minutes, she maneuvered her way through burning homes, cars, and debris to find her home engulfed in flames. Her husband and children died in the house. Although she did not know it at the time, an Aeromexico passenger airplane had crashed into her home after colliding with a privately owned plane. Estrada suffered severe emotional distress from the incident. She sued for the wrongful death of her family. Aeromexico was found not responsible for the accident. The jury found the private pilot 50 percent liable, and the United States 50 percent liable because air traffic controllers had failed to detect the private plane's intrusion into commercial airspace and give a traffic advisory to the Aeromexico flight. The jury awarded Estrada $5.5 million for the death of her family and $1 million for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The U.S. government appealed the $500,000 judgment against it for negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Issue. Was Estrada entitled under the law to recover damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress?
Opinion. Hug, Circuit Judge. A plaintiff may recoverdamages for emotional distress caused by observing the negligently inflicted injury of a third person if, but only if, said plaintiff: (1) is closely related to the injury victim; (2) is present at the scene of the injury-producing event at the time it occurs and is then aware that it is causing injury to the victim; and (3) as a result suffers serious emotional distress--a reaction beyond that which would be anticipated in a disinterested witness and which is not an abnormal response to the...
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