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COURT SAYS NO EMOTIONAL-DISTRESS DAMAGES FOR NEGLIGENCE CAUSING PROPERTY DAMAGE ALONE

On March 29, 2017, the Tennessee Court of Appeals released an opinion clarifying that emotional-distress damages arising from negligent conduct are not available in a case involving only property damage. Lane v. Leggett, No. M2016-00448-COA-R3-CV (Tenn.Ct.App. March 29, 2017)(no appeal to Tennessee Supreme Court sought). The Lane case upheld summary judgment for the defendant in a case alleging emotional injuries that required mental health treatment. The plaintiff's emotional distress occurred after the deceased drove his vehicle into the plaintiff's business, starting a fire in the business owner's absence. The fire raged for several hours and "engulfed" the business in flames, in the owner's presence, after he was notified of it and returned to the business. The court held that, unless there is fraud, malice, or a similar motive, "the law does not permit recovery for plaintiff's emotional injuries" due to property damage only. Id. at 7. While this writer, at least, had previously assumed that this was the law in Tennessee, there was no Tennessee case expressly stating this before Lane--or stating it as clearly, at any rate.

It should be noted that each case must be analyzed on its facts. The law in this area--emotional injuries and when a plaintiff can recover for them--was once called "disparate and confusing" by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Camper v. Minor, 915 S.W.2d 437, 440 (Tenn. 1996). There are certainly exceptions to the holding in the Lane case, and careful legal research and analysis are necessary.

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