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KNAUB v. GOTWALT (06/24/66)

decided: June 24, 1966.


Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of York County, Aug. T., 1965, No. 588, in case of Wayne E. Knaub, Delores R. Knaub, his wife, and Wayne E. Knaub, as parent and natural guardian of Nancy E. Knaub, a minor v. Brenda L. Gotwalt.


Lewis H. Markowitz, with him Markowitz, Kagen & Griffith, for appellants.

Donald H. Yost, with him William W. Wogan, for appellee.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Bell. Mr. Justice Cohen and Mr. Justice Eagen concur in the result. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Musmanno. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts.

Author: Bell

[ 422 Pa. Page 269]

This is an appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas which sustained defendant's preliminary objections to plaintiffs' complaint in trespass which claimed damages for mental shock and anguish.

[ 422 Pa. Page 270]

Plaintiffs in this trespass action were the mother, father, and sister of a young boy who was struck and killed by defendant's automobile. Decedent and his sister were crossing a highway when defendant struck and killed him, hurling his body some 60 feet. The sister was untouched, although she was standing only three feet from her brother when he was killed. The parents of the decedent were sitting in a parked car just twenty-five feet from the accident, and they as well as the sister observed this tragic event and naturally they all suffered extreme mental shock and anguish.

In order to recover, plaintiffs urge us to overrule a long line of prior decisions of this Court which admittedly cover and control their case.

This Court has consistently held: "The rule is long and well established in Pennsylvania that there can be no recovery of damages for injuries resulting from fright or nervous shock or mental or emotional disturbances or distress, unless they are accompanied by physical injury or physical impact: Koplin v. Louis K. Liggett Co., 322 Pa. 333, 185 A. 744; Ewing v. Pittsburgh C. & St. L. Ry. Co., 147 Pa. 40, 23 A. 340; Fox v. Borkey, 126 Pa. 164; Huston v. Freemansburg Borough, 212 Pa. 548, 61 A. 1022; Morris v. Lackawanna and Wyoming Valley Railroad Co., 228 Pa. 198, 77 A. 445; Howarth v. Adams Express Company, 269 Pa. 280, 112 A.2d 536; Hess v. Philadelphia Transportation Co., 358 Pa. 144, 56 A.2d 89; Potere v. Philadelphia, 380 Pa. 581, 112 A.2d 100; Gefter v. Rosenthal, 384 Pa. 123, 119 A.2d 250." Bosley v. Andrews, 393 Pa. 161, 164, 142 A.2d 263. This rule was reaffirmed as recently as Cucinotti v. Ortmann, 399 Pa. 26, 159 A.2d 216.

This rule applies even where the complaining party seeking relief was not merely a nearby witness but the actual victim of the alleged negligent or frightening conduct. Bosley v. Andrews, 393 Pa., supra.

[ 422 Pa. Page 271]

If we permitted recovery in a case such as this, our Courts would be swamped by a virtual avalanche of cases for damages for many situations and cases hitherto unrecoverable in Pennsylvania. As we said in Bosley v. Andrews, 393 Pa., supra (pp. 168-169): "To allow recovery for fright, fear, nervous shock, humiliation, mental or emotional distress -- with all the disturbances and illnesses which accompany or result therefrom -- where there has been no physical injury or impact, would open a Pandora's box. A plaintiff might be driving her car alertly or with her mind preoccupied, when a sudden or unexpected or exceptionally loud noise of an automobile horn behind or parallel with her car, or a sudden loud and unexpected fire engine bell or siren, or a sudden unexpected frightening buzz-sawing noise, or an unexpected explosion from blasting or dynamiting, or an unexpected nerve-wracking noise produced by riveting on a street, or the shrill and unexpected blast of a train at a spot far from a crossing, or the witnessing of a horrifying accident, or the approach of a car near or over the middle line, even though it is withdrawn to its own side in ample time to avoid an accident, or any one of a dozen other everyday events, can cause or aggravate fright or nervous shock or emotional distress or nervous tension or mental disturbance. Such an event, if compensable, may cause normal people, as well as nervous persons and persons who are mentally disturbed or mentally ill, to honestly believe that the sudden and unexpected event caused them fright or nervous shock or nervous tension with subsequent emotional distress or suffering or pain or miscarriage or heart attack, or some kind of disease. In most cases, it would be impossible for medical science to prove that these subjective symptoms could not possibly have resulted from or been aggravated or precipitated by fright or nervous shock or nervous tension or emotional disturbance or distress, each of

[ 422 Pa. Page 272]

    which can in turn produce an ulcer or headaches or fainting spells or, under some circumstances, a heart attack, or a serious disease. For every wholly genuine and deserving claim, there would likely be a tremendous number of illusory or imaginative or 'faked' ones. Medical science, we repeat, could not prove that these could not have been caused or precipitated or aggravated by defendant's alleged negligent act."

We cannot permit such chaos to permeate our law of negligence.*fn*

Order affirmed.


Judgment affirmed.

[ 422 Pa. Page ...

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