(CN) – A fisherman who says he sought psychiatric help after watching a fatal collision involving two vessels can pursue claims of emotional distress under maritime law, the 9th Circuit ruled.
Brian Stacy filed suit in district court against Rederiet Otto Danielson and Aries Shipping after their cargo ship Eva Danielson nearly missed his ship and ended up running down a fishing vessel called Buona Madre, killing its captain.
The Eva Danielson was 291 feet long, loaded with cargo and weighed 4,286 tons. The Buona Madre and Stacy’s boat were much smaller and were trolling for salmon in dense fog of off Point Reyes, Calif.
Stacy alleged that the freighter was speeding without a proper lookout, proper radar equipment or proper signals in violation of the International Navigation Rules Act. He blamed the incident for his missing work and needing psychiatric help.
Stacy did not witness the captain’s death.
The district court dismissed his complaint, ruling that because Stacy’s claim was not premised on his having experienced a psychic injury by witnessing another being seriously injured or killed, while simultaneously being threatened with physical injury he had failed to state a claim. The court said that very few jurisdictions employ a zone of danger test that lacks a “witnessed harm” requirement.
On appeal, a 2-1 panel reversed the district court ruling that Stacy’s claim that his proximity to the crash and the fright caused by the defendants’ negligence was all he needed to assert a cause.
In her dissent, Judge Cynthia Hall wrote, “Stacy’s pleading falters because he has failed adequately to allege that he suffered “fright” or “shock” or any other type of severe emotional distress as a result of appellees’ negligent conduct while he was in the ‘zone of danger.'”