Burgess v. Superior Court
2 Cal.4th 1064, 9 Cal.Rptr.2d 615, 831 P.2d 1197 (1992)
Burgess delivered a baby and
the obstetrician negligently caused
the child to suffer brain damage. She sued for damage to the baby, but
also for her own emotional distress.
The doctor argued that their
duty was to the baby, not to the mother, so their liability was limited
to the damage to the baby.
The Court found for Burgess.
The Court held that there
are two classes of emotional distress
Where the plaintiff is a bystander
who has no preexisting relationship with the defendant.
See Thing v. LaChusa (771 P.2d 814 (1989)).
Where the plaintiff is in a
relationship (here doctor-patient) and the claim is based on a breach of
duty assumed by the defendant that arises out of the relationship.
The Court found that for
special relationship claims like the one in this case, liability is based
on the relationship between the parties.
Both parties understood
that a physician owes a duty to a pregnant woman not to negligently damage
Basically, this case said that
if you are in a preexisting relationship with someone (like you are their
doctor), and are deemed responsible for their happiness, you can be held
liable for emotional distress
because you have a duty to care about their happiness.