Insurers Praise Conn. High Court Ruling Limiting Emotional Distress Recovery

March 5, 2004

A recent ruling by the Connecticut Supreme Court has resulted in what insurers say is “a reasonable solution” to the issue of placing limits on financial compensation for emotional distress. The court determined that when a bystander’s emotional distress is the result of witnessing the bodily injury of a third party, the only available recovery would be under the third party’s per-person bodily injury limits as defined in the insurance policy.

“The Supreme Court answered the question of whether a bystander suffering from emotional distress could recover under a separate policy limit for their injuries, or be limited to the maximum allowable amount incurred by the third party whose injury caused the emotional distress,” said Gerald L. Zimmerman, assistant vice president and regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI). “The court chose to adopt a reasonable approach and limit recovery by relying on the language of the insurance policy.”

The original case, Galgano v. Metropolitan Property & Casualty Insurance Co. et al., involved a father and son who were both injured when an uninsured automobile struck their motorcycle. The father claimed he suffered emotional distress from witnessing his son being injured and attempted to claim benefits for emotional distress under his uninsured motorist coverage. The insurer denied the father’s claims because the policy limit had already been paid to the son for the injuries he sustained. The matter went to the Appellate Court, and then the Connecticut Supreme Court.

The court observed that the plaintiff’s insurance policy included an endorsement which specifically covered injuries sustained as a result of uninsured motorcycle accidents and that the maximum payable amount “for all claims by all persons for damages for bodily injury to any one person is the ‘each person’ Uninsured Motorist Coverage limit shown in the declarations.” Since the son exhausted the $20,000 bodily injury limit, there were no funds available to compensate the father for his emotional distress. So while the court found a claim for bystander emotional distress did exist as compensable, it was limited to the “each person” maximum allowed by the policy’s terms.

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