Relatives Who Watched Victim Choke to Death Win CA Court of Appeals Case For Emotional Distress Claims

A state appeals court has upheld $375,000 in damages against a Berkeley hospital in a suit by two women who said they watched a relative choking to death after surgery while they waited for a doctor to arrive. Madeline Knox, in her 60s, underwent thyroid surgery at Alta Bates in September 2008 and was taken to a medical-surgical unit, where a nurse noticed breathing problems that indicated a possible obstruction in her upper airway. A jury awarded them $1 million for wrongful death, which was reduced to $250,000 under a state law limiting damages for medical malpractice. Justice Peter Siggins said in the majority opinion, the jury was entitled to conclude that Smith and Keys “observed Knox’s acute respiratory distress and were aware that (the hospital’s) inadequate response caused her death.”


The tort of Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress is available not only to persons who suffer physical injury but, to their relatives if they witness the victim suffering.  Such was the ruling in this California court of Appeals decision.

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