Burgess v. Superior Court

2 Cal. 4th 1064 (1992)

Plaintiff underwent C-section during which she was placed under general anesthetic.  The Defendant doctor failed to protect Plaintiff’s newborn baby and the baby suffered permanent brain damage due to deprivation of oxygen. 

Plaintiff brought claim against Defendant for negligent infliction of emotional distress, alleging that he breached his contract with her by not caring for the child properly.

The trial court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment.  The court of appeals reversed the ruling that Thing v. LaChusa was not applicable here because Plaintiff was the direct victim and not a bystander.

The issue facing the California Supreme Court was whether Plaintiff was a direct victim of the negligence.  The court answer in the affirmative.

The court explained that the distinction between bystander and direct victim cases is found in the source of the duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff.  In the current case, it can be stated that Defendant doctor had a duty of care to both Plaintiff and her fetus.  A mother and her fetus are physically and emotionally connected and any harm to the fetus can be considered a direct harm to the mother.  Therefore, Plaintiff in this case was a direct victim and not a bystander.  Therefore, the rigid rules of La Chusa are not applicable to this case.

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