The mother of a plane crash victim has added a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress to a pending U.S. Eastern District damage suit against American Airlines, in the wake of the N.C. Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. Ruark Obstetrics.
The move is the first application of the controversial Ruark Obstetrics ruling in the federal arena, observers say.
The U.S. Eastern District case is Wells v. AVAir Inc. (North Carolina Lawyers Weekly No. ED0138 – 4 pages). U.S. District Judge James C. Fox wrote the Jan. 14 opinion, which allowed the mother to add the emotional distress claim and also permitted the father to join as a plaintiff in that action.
The parents are suing American Airlines and AVAir Inc. for the wrongful death of the 13-year-old son in a 1988 airplane crash near Raleigh. Neither parent was present when the tragedy occurred. The original complaint brought by the mother included claims of negligence, gross negligence and breach of contract.
While the federal suit was pending, the N.C. Supreme Court issued the Ruark Obstetrics decision, which said an expectant couple could sue their obstetricians for negligent infliction of emotional distress following a stillborn delivery.
Accordingly, the plaintiff in Wells, citing Ruark, sought to amend her complaint to add an emotional distress claim against the defendant airlines. In October, Judge Fox indicated such an amendment was proper, provided the plaintiff met the Ruark pleading requirements of negligent conduct, foreseeability, and causation (see page 1 story in Oct. 29, 1990 issue).
On Jan. 14, Judge Fox formally ordered that the complaint be amended to add the new claim and join the husband as a plaintiff. The move was unopposed by the defendants.