The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Fahey, over two concurrences, reversing the Appellate Division, determined that a grandmother who witnesseD the death of her grandchild is “immediate family” such that she may recover damages for emotional distress under the “zone of danger” theory (negligent infliction of emotional distress):
This case begins with the heart-breaking death of a child. Our responsibility is to determine whether plaintiff-grandparent Susan Frierson, who was in close proximity to the decedent-grandchild at the time of the death-producing accident, may pursue a claim for bystander recovery under a “zone of danger” theory.
We have applied the settled “zone of danger” rule to “allow one who is . . . threatened with bodily harm in consequence of the defendant’s negligence to recover for emotional distress” flowing only from the “viewing [of] the death or serious physical injury of a member of [that person’s] immediate family” … . Unsettled at this juncture, however, are “the outer limits” of the phrase “immediate family” … . Once again, we are not asked to fix permanent boundaries of the “immediate family.” Instead, our task simply is to determine whether a grandchild may come within the limits of her grandparent’s “immediate family,” as that phrase is used in zone of danger jurisprudence.
We conclude that the grandchild comes within those limits. Consistent with our historically circumspect approach expanding liability for emotional damages within our zone of danger jurisprudence, our increasing legal recognition of the special status of grandparents, shifting societal norms, and common sense, we conclude that plaintiff’s grandchild is “immediate family” for the purpose of applying the zone of danger rule.
On May 17, 2015, plaintiff Susan Frierson and her two-year-old granddaughter, decedent Greta Devere Greene, were in front of a building when they were suddenly struck by debris that fell from the facade of that edifice. Emergency measures taken to save Greta’s life failed, and she died the next day. Greene v Esplanade Venture Partnership, 2021 NY Slip Op 01092, CtApp 2-18-21