Towns v. Anderson

Decision Date12 June 1978
Docket NumberNo. C-1290,C-1290
Citation195 Colo. 517,579 P.2d 1163
PartiesTimothy W. TOWNS, by and through his mother and next friend, Nancy E. Towns, Petitioner, v. Delbert M. ANDERSON, d/b/a Anderson Plumbing and Heating Company, and Greeley Gas Company, a Colorado Corporation, Respondents.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

David L. Kofoed, Roger T. Castle, Denver, for petitioner.

Yegge, Hall & Evans, Edward H. Widmann, Denver, for respondent Anderson.

Zarlengo, Mott & Zarlengo, Craig C. Eley, Donald E. Cordova, Denver, for respondent Greeley Gas Co.

Irvin M. Kent, Kenneth N. Kripke, Denver, for amicus curiae Colorado Trial Lawyers Association.

Bruce F. Fest, Denver, for amicus curiae Colorado Defense Lawyers association.

PRINGLE, Chief Justice.

This case raises the issue of whether Colorado should adopt or reaffirm the so-called impact requirement in cases of negligently inflicted emotional distress where that distress has resulted in serious physical manifestations. The district court dismissed plaintiff's action for failure to prove any physical injury or impact sustained at the scene of the accident. The court of appeals affirmed. Colo.App., 567 P.2d 814 (1977). We reverse.

On July 5, 1974, the home in which plaintiff lived with his family was destroyed by an explosion and fire. At the time, plaintiff was eleven years old. He had apparently been inside the house with his sister when, alerted by the smell of gas, he decided to go outside. While standing just off the front porch of the house, plaintiff witnessed the explosion, the lifting of the house off its foundation, and the ensuing fire. He also heard the screams of his sister who had remained inside the house.

Although plaintiff did not suffer any direct physical injury at the scene of the accident and did not sustain any direct physical impact to his body, he allegedly did sustain very serious emotional, psychological and psychiatric injuries. According to plaintiff, these injuries later manifested themselves in physical problems including nightmares, sleepwalking, nervousness and irritability.

While acknowledging the sufficiency of plaintiff's offer of proof with respect to the above injuries, the trial court would not allow the case to go to the jury. The jury did consider the independent claims of plaintiff's mother, brother, and sister, and in connection with these claims determined that the destruction of the family residence was due to the defendants' negligence.

In affirming the trial court's dismissal of this case, the majority opinion of the court of appeals relied primarily upon Hall v. Jackson, 24 Colo.App. 225, 134 P. 151 (1913). Much time has been spent in the briefs of the parties' discussing whether Hall, in fact, adopted the impact requirement with respect to tort actions of the nature in this case. We believe the exact scope of Hall is somewhat ambiguous, but to the extent Hall is inconsistent with the views expressed in this opinion, it is specifically overruled. While recognizing the importance of stare decisis to our system of jurisprudence, we note at the same time that the strength of the common law has always been its responsiveness to the changing needs of society.

Traditionally, a number of rationales have been offered in support of the impact rule. It has been argued that emotional damages are simply too speculative, and the possibility of fraudulent claims too high, to permit naked claims of emotional distress. In recent years, however, the medical profession has made tremendous advances in diagnosing and evaluating emotional and mental injuries. While psychiatry and psychology may not be exact sciences, they can now provide sufficiently reliable information concerning causation and treatment of psychic injuries, to provide a jury with an intelligent basis for evaluating a particular claim. In this light, we are confident that juries are capable of assessing whether a claim is...

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64 cases
  • Camper v. Minor
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • January 29, 1996
    ...Sears Roebuck & Co. v. Young, 384 So.2d 69 (Miss.1980); Vance v. Vance, 286 Md. 490, 408 A.2d 728 (1979); Towns v. Anderson, 195 Colo. 517, 579 P.2d 1163 (1978); Johnson v. State, 37 N.Y.2d 378, 372 N.Y.S.2d 638, 334 N.E.2d 590 (1975); Daley v. LaCroix, 384 Mich. 4, 179 N.W.2d 390 (1970); D......
  • Metro-North Commuter R.R. v. Buckley
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • June 23, 1997
    ...or might have caused, immediate traumatic harm. Keck v. Jackson, 122 Ariz. 114, 593 P.2d 668 (1979) (car accident); Towns v. Anderson, 195 Colo. 517, 579 P.2d 1163 (1978) (gas explosion); Robb v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 58 Del. 454, 210 A.2d 709 (1965) (train struck car); Rickey v. Chicago Tra......
  • Champion v. Gray, 81-1309
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • October 6, 1982
    ...A.2d 521 (1980); Corso v. Merrill, 119 N.H. 647, 406 A.2d 300 (1979); Sinn v. Burd, 486 Pa. 146, 404 A.2d 672 (1979); Towns v. Anderson, 195 Colo. 517, 579 P.2d 1163 (1978); Melton v. Allen, 282 Or. 731, 580 P.2d 1019 (1978); Dziokonski v. Babineau, 375 Mass. 555, 380 N.E.2d 1295 (1978); Hu......
  • Gottshall v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 91-1926
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • March 11, 1993
    ...486 Pa. 146, 404 A.2d 672, 678-79 (1979); Battalla v. State, 10 N.Y.2d 237, 219 N.Y.S.2d 34, 37-38, 176 N.E.2d 729, 731-32 (1961); Towns, 579 P.2d at 1164; Versland, 671 P.2d at 8 Indeed, as medical science continued to make strides and as the initial fear of inability to objectively and de......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Increasing fear of future injury claims: where speculation carries the day.
    • United States
    • Defense Counsel Journal Vol. 64 No. 4, October 1997
    • October 1, 1997
    ...Inc., 851 P.2d 459 (Nev. 1993). Oregon: Hammond v. Central Lane Comm. Ctr., 816 P.2d 593 (Or. 1991). 13. Colorado: Towns v. Anderson, 579 P.2d 1163 (Colo. Delaware: Robb v. Pennsylvania R.R., 210 A.2d 709 (Del. 1965). District of Columbia: Williams v. Baker, 572 A.2d 1062 (D.C. 1990). Minne......

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