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Zittrain Torts Playlist Spring 2013

Portee v. Jaffee

Should plaintiffs be able to recover damages solely for the emotional distress they feel while watching a loved one suffer and die? A seven-year-old boy became trapped between the outer door of an elevator and the wall of the elevator shaft. The elevator is activated and drags the boy's body up three stories. A child sees the trapped boy and runs to find help. Soon after, his mother--the plaintiff--and police officers arrive. Officers tried to free the boy for four hours, to no avail. Throughout the ordeal, the boy cried out and flailed his arms. His mother was restrained from touching him, to prevent interference with the rescue efforts. The boy died while still trapped, his mother a helpless observer. After her son's death, the plaintiff became depressed and unsuccessfully attempted suicide by slitting her own wrist. The plaintiff sued the defendant property owner for negligence in failing to provide a safe elevator.