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Seeing Child’s Injuries Isn’t Enough, Court Says

(CN) - A woman whose daughter lost fingers after touching a power line is not entitled to emotional-distress damages, the split Mississippi Supreme Court ruled.

A.A. was playing with the daughter of David and Sherry Melton when she climbed onto a cotton picker that the Meltons had on their Tunica County farm and touched a live power line.

Riley Berry, an employee of the Meltons who had parked the cotton picker, held the child until the emergency medical team arrived.

A.A's mother, Mary Bethanne Acey, learned of the accident and came to the scene after a dispatcher explained that A.A. had been seriously "shocked."

In her affidavit, Acey said she had smelled burning flesh and saw smoke coming from her daughter's skin, as well as missing fingers and exposed bones.

A.A. survived the accident but suffered severe burns on her hip and arms.

Acey and her daughter sued the Meltons, their farm and others, including Entergy Mississippi Inc., which owned the power line.

Entergy failed to win dismissal of Acey's claim for bystander emotional distress, but the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the decision, 5-4, on Oct. 23.

"It is undisputed that Acey was not present when A.A. grabbed the power line or when Berry and his son pulled A.A. down from the top of the cotton picker," Justice Randy Pierce wrote for the majority.

"Acey was an after-the-fact witness, an unforeseeable plaintiff," Pierce added.

Justice Josiah Coleman added in a specially concurring opinion that Acey cannot recover damages from Entergy because she was not the "immediate victim."

Justice Ann Lamar's dissent says Acey arrived within seven minutes of the accident and cited her account of its aftermath.

"In other words, the injury was still occurring," she wrote.

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