The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES B. MORAN
On the evening of February 21, 1988, a semi-trailer truck owned by Jones and driven by one of its employees ran off the roadway and crashed into ANR's natural gas facility, causing a large explosion, with flames rising up to 100 to 150 feet in the air, and killing the driver. The rented house in which the Buckleys lived was within several hundred feet of the ANR facility and Mr. Buckley witnessed the truck crashing into the pipeline -- the family was home when the accident occurred. The Buckleys quickly awakened their daughter Emily and they evacuated their home. As they were leaving, they apparently breathed in some fumes from the accident and felt the intense heat of the fire. Within minutes of leaving the area and of breathing the fumes, the Buckleys began experiencing headaches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. These reactions continued throughout the night. They sought emergency room treatment on the following morning, and the reactions were completely gone by later that same day.
Mr. Buckley saw the truck driver moving around in the cab of his truck shortly before it was engulfed by flames, though neither Mrs. Buckley nor Emily saw the driver. They were safely away from the area when a second explosion occurred. The Buckleys learned early in the morning of February 22 that their house and all their personal possessions in it were destroyed by a fire ignited, presumably, by the second explosion or the intense heat.
The Buckleys claim severe emotional distress as a result of the accident -- experiencing sleeplessness, disturbed sleep, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome (supp.ans. #16) -- and have sought therapy.
Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, entitling the movant to judgment as a matter of law. Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that the court, in making a summary judgment determination, will examine the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on the file, together with the affidavits," resolving all doubt in favor of the non-movant. The motion will be granted if "there can be one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict." Anderson v. Libert yLobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 , 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). Illinois law concerning negligent infliction of emotional distress is controlling in this case.
Prior to 1983 the "impact rule" governed recovery for emotional distress resulting from negligent conduct. Rickey v. Chicago Transit Authority, 98 Ill. 2d 546, 457 N.E.2d 1, 75 Ill. Dec. 211 (1983). The impact rule required a contemporaneous physical injury or impact in order for a direct victim or bystander to recover for negligent conduct. Id. at 553, 457 N.E.2d at 4. In Rickey, the Illinois Supreme Court "substituted" the zone-of-physical-danger rule for the impact rule in bystander cases. Rickey provided the following test:
Id. at 555, 457 N.E.2d at 5.
After Rickey, courts disagreed as to whether Rickey had replaced the impact rule with the zone-of-physical-danger rule in direct-victim as well as bystander situations, or whether it had created a new rule to be used solely in bystander situations. See McAdams v. Eli Lilly & Co., 638 F.Supp. 1173 (N.D. Ill. 1986); see also Robbins v. Kass, 163 Ill.App.3d 927, 516 N.E.2d 1023, 114 Ill. Dec. 868 (2d Dist. 1987). However, the Illinois Supreme Court in Corgan v. Muehling, 143 Ill. 2d 296, 574 N.E.2d 602, 158 Ill. Dec. 489 (1991), recently made clear that the zone-of-physical-danger rule is to be applied only in bystander cases and not in cases involving direct victims. In other words, the "zone-of-physical-danger rule is patently inapplicable to direct victims." Id., 574 N.E.2d at 605-06.
Also, though Corgan was a case involving a direct victim of negligent conduct, the extensive dicta in the case casts serious doubt on the vitality of the requirement that plaintiffs must show physical manifestations of their emotional distress under either the direct-impact rule or the zone-of-physical-danger rule in order to recover. Corgan, 574 N.E.2d at 607-09.
The Corgan court found that emotional distress that is not coupled with physical manifestations is "no less real" than distress that is coupled with physical manifestations "and should not be distinguishable at law." Id., 574 N.E.2d at 609. The court also noted that "the women and men of the mental health care field have made significant ...