AGNES SQUEO et al. v. THE NORWALK HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION et al.,

SC 19283

Judicial District of Stamford

 

†††† †Torts; Bystander Emotional Distress; Whether Parents who Witnessed Sonís Death Failed to Show that their Emotional Injuries Were Serious Enough to Support Bystander Emotional Distress Claim; Whether Bystander Emotional Distress Claims are Barred in Medical Malpractice Cases.† The plaintiffs brought this action against the defendant hospital and one of its nurses by a two count complaint seeking damages in connection with their sonís suicide.† The first count was brought on behalf of the sonís estate and alleged medical malpractice.† The second count was brought by the parents in their individual capacities and sought damages for bystander emotional distress.† Both counts were premised on allegations that the son was admitted to the hospital for a psychiatric examination after threatening to hurt himself and that, the following day, the nurse informed the plaintiffs that their son was being released because he no longer presented a danger to himself or others.† On being released from the hospital, the son walked to his parents' home and hanged himself from a tree.† The plaintiffs alleged that they saw their son hanging from the tree and ran to assist him but that he had already suffered substantial brain injuries which ultimately caused his death.† In support of their bystander emotional distress claim, the plaintiffs alleged that they suffered extreme, substantial, serious and permanent emotional distress as a result of experiencing the hanging, the attempted rescue from the hanging, the administration of life support and, ultimately, their sonís death.† The defendants moved for summary judgment on the bystander emotional distress count, arguing that there was no genuine dispute that the plaintiffs' emotional injuries lacked the severity required to support a claim of bystander emotional distress.† In granting summary judgment for the defendants, the trial court noted that in Clohessy v. Bachelor, 237 Conn. 31, 56 (1996), the Supreme Court found that one of the essential elements of a bystander emotional distress claim is that the bystanderís emotional injury must be serious "beyond that which would be anticipated in a disinterested witness and which is not the result of an abnormal response."† The court found that the plaintiffs failed to establish that they suffered such a serious injury, noting that there was no evidence that they suffered any physical injury or that they had been formally diagnosed with a mental disorder as a result of witnessing their son's death.† It further stated that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that their injuries were severe and debilitating.† The plaintiffs appeal, arguing that the trial court improperly determined that they failed to establish that their emotional injuries were serious enough to support a claim of bystander emotional distress.† They claim that the trial court improperly required them to show that they were formally diagnosed with a mental disorder and that their emotional injuries were "severe and debilitating" when Clohessy imposes no such requirements.† The defendants argue that the summary judgment ruling was proper and that the judgment can be affirmed on the alternative ground that Connecticut does not recognize a bystander emotional distress claim in the context of a medical malpractice suit.