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In California, negligent infliction of emotional distress damages are only available to plaintiffs who witness an event causing personal injury to a person with whom plaintiff is related by blood or marriage. Two recent decisions from the Courts of Appeal have quashed attempts by plaintiffs to expand the scope of persons who may recover such damages.

In the first, plaintiff claimed he could recover emotional distress damages after a person with whom he had a "very close personal relationship" was negligently injured. The court rejected the claim. Emotional distress damages are available to close relatives, to more remote relatives with whom the injured person resides, or to other remote relatives under "exceptional circumstances." But claimants who are not related to the plaintiff are barred, no matter how close the personal relationship. Rodriguez v. Kirchhoefel (2005) 128 Cal.App.4th 427.

In Yan Gu v. BMW of North America, the Court of Appeal held that the plaintiff could not recover emotional distress damages after her sister was killed and her parents injured in an auto accident that plaintiff alleged was the result of a defect in the vehicle because the plaintiff herself was not in the vehicle at the time. The court observed that the law is well-settled: a plaintiff may recover for negligent infliction of emotional distress only as the "direct victim" of the defendant's breach of duty or as a "bystander" who witnesses an event that injures a family member.

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