James v. Lieb Case Brief

Summary of James v. Lieb (1985) Pg. 533, 375 N.W.2d 109 (Neb. 1985)

Parties: Appellant – Plaintiff – James

Appellee – Defendant – Lieb

Court: Court of Appeals – Nebraska, 1985

Facts: Greg James and his sister, Demetria, were riding their bicycles on 50th street, when a garbage truck driven by Lieb, was backing the trucking off Spaulding Street into 50th street through a stop sign. As a result, Lieb hit and ran over Demetria killing her. Greg witnessed the death of his sister and became physically ill and suffered, will continue to suffer, mental anguish and emotional distress.

Procedural Posture: TC – granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that Gregg James was not in the “zone of danger" or in fear of his own safety so there was no cause of action for emotional distress asserted under Nebraska law.

Issue: Can a plaintiff who is a blood relative of the decedent recover for emotional distress after witnessing the demise of his relative at the hands of the defendant’s negligent actions despite being outside the “zone of danger"?

Judgment: Reversed TC’s decision and remanded back to TC for further proceedings allowing Greg James to prove his case to seek relief.

Holding: The court threw out the “Zone of Danger" argument by the defendants and said the familial status of the relationship between the brother and sister compensates for that. The court instigated the Dillon Test and said as long as the requirements are met; the brother had a case that can be heard in trial court.

Relevant Rule: Dillon Test

1. The proximity of the plaintiff to the physical site of the alleged negligent act.

2. Whether the plaintiff’s emotional distress was caused by observing the negligent act, as opposed to distress caused by learning of the act via some intermediary.

3. The relationship between the plaintiff and the victim. Usually the relationship must be of marital or familial in nature.

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