Passenger emotional distress claim fails because physical impact absent

Atlantic Coast Airlines v. Cook (Ind. Dec. 6, 2006).  A passenger disrupted a commuter flight from Indianapolis to New York by smoking, shouting, sitting in different empty seats and walking toward the cockpit.  Other passengers blocked the aisle to keep the unruly passenger away from the cockpit.  There was no physical contact between the unruly passenger and the other passengers.

Two of the passengers filed suit, alleging negligent infliction of emotional distress and other causes of action against the airline.  Applying Indiana’s “modified impact rule,” the court held that the passengers’ emotional distress cause of action failed because they had not sustained a “direct physical impact” as a result of the airline’s alleged negligence.

The court also held that, even if the passengers had sustained a physical impact of some kind, their emotional distress claim was inadequate because their distress was temporary and speculative.  The court sensibly noted that “complete emotional tranquility is seldom attainable in this world, and some degree of transient and trivial emotional distress is a part of the price of living among people.”

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