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Mississippi Lawyer Blog

Bystander Claim of Emotional Distress in Mississippi Electrocution Case

farm-field-views-1444357-m.jpgThe Supreme Court of Mississippi recently ruled in the case of Entergy Mississippi v. Mary Bethanne Acey. In the case, a minor was electrocuted on somebody else's farmland. A man who worked for the owners of the land had parked his cotton picker under a sagging power line owned by Entergy Mississippi. The minor had climbed onto the picker, touched the power line, and suffered electrocution.

The man's deposition showed that he and his son weren't aware that the minor and the owner's daughter were playing nearby. The man's son saw a flash out of the corner of his eye. The man and his son began running towards the flash and found the minor on top of the picker. The son was able to move the minor and hand her to the man, who held her until the emergency responders arrived.

When the accident happened, the minor's mother was driving to Moon Lake with her son and boyfriend. The 911 dispatcher called the boyfriend, who turned the car around. The dispatcher explained what had happened. The minor's mother saw smoke coming out of her daughter's skin, her skin flaking, fingers missing, and bones exposed, and she smelled burning flesh. The emergency responders arrived after the mother did.

The minor had severe burns on both arms and her hip. She was airlifted to a children's hospital in Tennessee and was transferred. The minor's mother sued the energy company, the landowners, the farm, and others on behalf of her child and also sued for her individual bystander claim for emotional distress. The defendants settled all claims on behalf of the minor. However, the energy company moved for summary judgment and moved to strike the affidavits of the mother and doctor. The trial court denied these motions. The energy company was granted an interlocutory appeal by the court.

The court found that the energy company's motion for summary judgment regarding the mother's bystander claim for emotional distress should have been granted. It explained that the test for this type of claim was found in Dillon v. Legg, a California Supreme Court case, adopted in Mississippi, that allowed a plaintiff to recover for emotional distress after witnessing a child's death based on the foreseeability of emotional harm to the mother.

The Dillon test determines whether a bystander can recover after consideration of these factors: whether a plaintiff is near the place where the accident happens or far away from it, whether the plaintiff's emotional distress arises out of him or her observing the actual accident as opposed to learning about what happened later, and whether the plaintiff and the injured or killed person are closely related.

In this case, the court found that the mother failed to meet the first two factors. The mother in this case was not near the scene of the accident and had not directly observed the accident. The court's dissent noted that these factors are guidelines, not determinative. However, the majority opinion reasoned that if these were simply guidelines, there would be infinite liability in almost every negligence lawsuit. The Court also found that the mother was an unforeseeable plaintiff-despite being the mother of a severely injured child-because she didn't have a sensory impression of the actual accident. The Court reversed, finding the energy company should have been granted summary judgment.

If you or a loved one has been hurt in an electrical accident, an experienced personal injury attorney may be able to help you recover damages from the person or entity responsible for the accident and any other entity responsible for keeping the property safe. Contact the skilled team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC for a free consultation today.

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