Gonzalez v. Metropolitan Dade County Public Health Trust, No. 82838

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Writing for the CourtHARDING; GRIMES; KOGAN, J., concurs specially with an opinion, in which WELLS; KOGAN; WELLS
Citation651 So.2d 673
Docket NumberNo. 82838
Decision Date02 March 1995
Parties20 Fla. L. Weekly S101 Jesus GONZALEZ, et ux., Petitioners, v. METROPOLITAN DADE COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH TRUST, Respondent.

Page 673

651 So.2d 673
20 Fla. L. Weekly S101
Jesus GONZALEZ, et ux., Petitioners,
v.
METROPOLITAN DADE COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH TRUST, Respondent.
No. 82838.
Supreme Court of Florida.
March 2, 1995.

Jesus F. Bujan of Fleitas & Bujan, Miami, for petitioners.

Robert A. Ginsburg, Dade County Atty., and Ronald J. Bernstein and James J. Allen, Asst. County Attys., Miami, for respondent.

Esther E. Galicia of George, Hartz, Lundeen, Flagg & Fulmer, Coral Gables, amicus curiae for Rivero Funeral Home, Inc.

HARDING, Justice.

We have for review Gonzalez v. Metropolitan Dade County Public Health Trust, 626 So.2d 1030 (Fla. 3d DCA 1993), in which the Third District Court of Appeal certified the following question as being one of great public importance:

Whether Florida should adopt section 868 Restatement (Second) of Torts, receding from the holding in Donahue [Dunahoo] v. Bess, 146 Fla. 182, 200 So. 541 (1941), that the law of Florida will not sustain an action for mental anguish caused by negligent handling of a dead body in the absence of physical injury.

Id. at 1033. We have jurisdiction pursuant to article V, section 3(b)(4) of the Florida Constitution, and answer the certified question in the negative.

On October 29, 1988, Zoila Gonzalez gave birth to a baby girl who died at Jackson Memorial Hospital on November 7, 1988. Jesus and Zoila Gonzalez (the Gonzalezes) procured the services of Rivero Funeral Home to perform a funeral service and burial

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on November 9, 1988. On January 9, 1989, Rivero Funeral Home notified the Gonzalezes that their baby had not been buried, and that the body was still in a refrigerated drawer at the hospital morgue. A second funeral and burial were held on January 24, 1989.

The Gonzalezes filed a complaint against Metropolitan Dade County Health Trust (d/b/a Jackson Memorial Hospital) and Rivero Funeral Home, alleging tortious interference with a dead body and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The trial court found that while the hospital and funeral home's conduct was negligent, it was not intentional or grossly negligent. The Gonzalezes conceded that they suffered no physical impact and that the hospital and funeral home's acts were not willful. Consequently, the trial court granted summary judgment for Metropolitan Dade County and Rivero Funeral Home on the ground that absent a physical injury, a petitioner making a claim for emotional distress in an action for tortious interference with a dead body must plead and prove conduct that is extreme and outrageous, so as to imply malice and justify the imposition of punitive damages. The court subsequently vacated the summary judgment entered in favor of Rivero Funeral Home.

The Gonzalezes appealed the summary judgment order in favor of Metropolitan Dade County to the Third District Court of Appeal, arguing that under Florida law there is no impact requirement in cases dealing with tortious interference with a dead body. Gonzalez, 626 So.2d at 1031. The district court cited an extensive list of cases which held that absent physical impact to the claimant, there can be no recovery for mental anguish in an action based on negligent mishandling of a corpse. Id. Finding no allegation or proof of physical impact or malicious conduct in the instant case, the district court affirmed the final summary judgment, but certified the question to this Court.

The Gonzalezes ask this Court to adopt section 868 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (1977) and recede from its holding in Dunahoo v. Bess, 146 Fla. 182, 200 So. 541 (1941), in order to provide a vehicle for recovery to individuals who have suffered mental damages for the negligent handling of a dead body in the absence of physical impact.

The "impact doctrine" which evolved from the common law of England, requires that a plaintiff sustain actual physical impact in order to recover for the negligent infliction of emotional distress. The traditional rationale for this rule was to insure the authenticity of mental distress claims. W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts Sec. 54, at 363 (5th ed. 1984). Numerous jurisdictions have adopted the doctrine, although many have not strictly adhered to the "impact" requirement.

Depending on the jurisdiction, an allegation of negligent infliction of mental distress may require proof of physical injury, temporal sequence, physical impact, or proximate cause. These are separate and distinct requirements, although often erroneously used interchangeably. Although the majority of jurisdictions do not require physical impact, they nevertheless still require a physical injury for recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress. See, e.g., Alabama Fuel & Iron Co. v. Baladoni, 15 Ala.App. 316, 73 So. 205 (1916) (adopting proximate cause requirement); Orlo v. Connecticut Co., 128 Conn. 231, 21 A.2d 402 (1941) (requiring proximate cause); Usry v. Small, 103 Ga.App. 144, 118 S.E.2d 719 (1961) (adopting the physical injury and proximate cause requirements).

Although this Court has re-examined the rule numerous times, Florida law...

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31 practice notes
  • Ware v. Anw Special Educ. Co-Op. No. 603, No. 98,236.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • April 11, 2008
    ...emotional disturbance." This rule appears to be followed by the majority of jurisdictions. Gonzalez v. Metro. Dade Cty. Health Trust, 651 So.2d 673, 674-75 (Fla.1995); see also Muchow v. Lindblad, 435 N.W.2d 918, 921-22 (N.D.1989) ("A majority of jurisdictions follow the Restatement 2d Tort......
  • Willis v. Gami Golden Glades, LLC., No. SC04-1929.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • October 18, 2007
    ...died from shock and grief after a driver struck and killed the plaintiff's daughter); Gonzalez v. Metro. Dade County Pub. Health Trust, 651 So.2d 673 (Fla.1995) (no impact where parents sued for negligent mishandling of deceased infant); R.J. v. Humana of Fla., Inc., 652 So.2d 360 (Fla.1995......
  • Coca-Cola Bottling Co. v. Hagan, No. 98-1463.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • December 3, 1999
    ...a result of the emotional distress which in turn was caused by the impact. See Zell; Gonzalez v. Metro. Dade County Public Health Trust, 651 So.2d 673 (Fla. 1995); Brown v. Cadillac Motor Car Division, 468 So.2d 903 (Fla.1985); Jordan v. Equity Properties & Dev. Co., 661 So.2d 1307 (Fla. 3d......
  • Guth v. Freeland, No. 22539.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • July 31, 2001
    ...liability, which requires a "contemporary sensory perception" of the harm); Gonzalez v. Metropolitan Dade County Public Health Trust, 651 So.2d 673 (Fla.1995) (plaintiffs must show that they suffered physical injury or that defendants' conduct was willful or wanton); Washington v. John T. R......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
31 cases
  • Ware v. Anw Special Educ. Co-Op. No. 603, No. 98,236.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • April 11, 2008
    ...emotional disturbance." This rule appears to be followed by the majority of jurisdictions. Gonzalez v. Metro. Dade Cty. Health Trust, 651 So.2d 673, 674-75 (Fla.1995); see also Muchow v. Lindblad, 435 N.W.2d 918, 921-22 (N.D.1989) ("A majority of jurisdictions follow the Restatement 2d Tort......
  • Willis v. Gami Golden Glades, LLC., No. SC04-1929.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • October 18, 2007
    ...died from shock and grief after a driver struck and killed the plaintiff's daughter); Gonzalez v. Metro. Dade County Pub. Health Trust, 651 So.2d 673 (Fla.1995) (no impact where parents sued for negligent mishandling of deceased infant); R.J. v. Humana of Fla., Inc., 652 So.2d 360 (Fla.1995......
  • Coca-Cola Bottling Co. v. Hagan, No. 98-1463.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • December 3, 1999
    ...a result of the emotional distress which in turn was caused by the impact. See Zell; Gonzalez v. Metro. Dade County Public Health Trust, 651 So.2d 673 (Fla. 1995); Brown v. Cadillac Motor Car Division, 468 So.2d 903 (Fla.1985); Jordan v. Equity Properties & Dev. Co., 661 So.2d 1307 (Fla. 3d......
  • Guth v. Freeland, No. 22539.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • July 31, 2001
    ...liability, which requires a "contemporary sensory perception" of the harm); Gonzalez v. Metropolitan Dade County Public Health Trust, 651 So.2d 673 (Fla.1995) (plaintiffs must show that they suffered physical injury or that defendants' conduct was willful or wanton); Washington v. John T. R......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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