The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES B. ZAGEL
On June 27, 1988, in the late morning, Constance Williams was driving east on Old McHenry Road in a car owned by the Williams Insurance Agency. Loren Kapoulas was driving his tractor/trailer westbound on Old McHenry Road. Both were approaching the T-intersection of their road with Darlington Road. There were no traffic stop lights or signs on Old McHenry. The day was clear and traffic was moderate. Constance Williams started a left turn onto Darlington Road. When she did so Loren Kapoulas was traveling about 40-45 m.p. He was 90 to 100 feet away from the Williams car. He applied his brakes, remained in his lane (leaving the lane would have caused a collision with other vehicles) and struck the Williams car. Williams did not recollect whether she stopped or put on her turn signal or saw Kapoulas' vehicle. Kapoulas was not physically injured (except for a bruised and strained arm and shoulder which healed), and Constance Williams survived, but her two children, who were riding with her, did not. Kapoulas sues for emotional distress resulting not from fear for his own safety, but rather from the death of two children.
Illinois law offers more hope for defendants' argument that they cannot be held to pay for Kapoulas' emotional distress. The cases have limited recovery for emotional pain first to those who also suffered physical injury, then to those who also suffered physical impact and finally to bystanders who were within a zone of danger of physical harm. See the leading case of Rickey v. CTA, 98 Ill. 2d 546, 457 N.E.2d 1, 75 Ill. Dec. 211 (1983) (rejecting the California decision which permitted recovery for the mere witnessing of injury to another). The emotional distress caused by witnessing injury to another is, without more, not compensable in Illinois. Siemieniec v. Lutheran General Hospital, 117 Ill. 2d 230, 512 N.E.2d 691, 111 Ill. Dec. 302 (1987) (a hemophiliac infant); Gillman v. Burlington Northern Railroad, 878 F.2d 1020 (7th Cir. 1989) (co-employee's injury); Gihring v. Butcher, 138 Ill. App. 3d 976, 93 Ill. Dec. 631, 487 N.E.2d 75 (1985) (spouse's suicide).
Alexander was a passenger in a car driven by her fiance when it collided with a car driven by De Paepe. She was physically injured in the crash and she suffered physical illness from the emotional distress that resulted from the sight of her fiance suffering fatal injury. The Appellate Court found that Illinois law would not have allowed Alexander's claim before the decision in Rickey v. CTA, The Court said:
Rickey, rather than creating a new cause of action, merely extended an existing cause of action beyond those bystanders who actually suffered some physical impact to those bystanders who were put at great risk by defendant's negligence . . . it did not widen the scope so greatly as to include plaintiffs whose stress arises from watching another's injury or suffering."
Alexander, 148 Ill. App. 3d at 834, 499 N.E.2d at 1067.
Corgan sought professional treatment from Muehling, who falsely held himself out as a registered psychologist. Under the guise of therapy, Muehling repeatedly engaged in sexual intercourse with Corgan, which caused her to experience fear, shame, humiliation and guilt. The Supreme Court held that the requirement that a plaintiff be within the zone of physical danger applied only to bystanders and not to direct victims and the Court found that Corgan was a direct victim and could sue for emotional distress. Corgan, 143 Ill. 2d at 306-7, 574 N.E.2d at 606.
Corgan makes one thing clear: a "direct victim" need not be within a zone of physical danger to sue for emotional distress, but a "bystander" must be. The Court did not (and did not need to) define the distinctions between a bystander and a direct victim; Corgan's pain was not caused by her observation of the suffering of another. The Court in Alexander was quite aware of the distinction between "direct victims" and "bystanders" and found that a passenger in a crashed vehicle was a "bystander" to the suffering of the driver.
So, too, is Kapoulas. Illinois law bars his claim for emotional distress and on that claim summary judgment is awarded to defendants.
United States District ...