New York Court of Appeals Expands the Term “Immediate Family”
On February 18, 2021, the New York Court of Appeals expanded the term “immediate family” to include grandparents in claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED). The decision is the result of a heart-wrenching case involving the death of a 2-year old child. In Greene v. Esplanade Venture Partnership, 2021 WL 623832 (2021), the child and her grandmother were struck by pieces of a building façade that had broken and fallen off, resulting in the child’s death.
A plaintiff can recover damages under a NIED claim when they are within a zone of danger and “threatened with bodily harm, in consequence of the defendant’s negligence […] flowing from the viewing of the death or serious physical injury of a member of [their] immediate family.” Id, citing Bovsun v. Sanperi, 61 N.Y.2d 219, 473 N.Y.S.2d 357, 461 N.E.2d 843.
In Greene, plaintiffs’ (decedent’s mother and grandmother) moved to amend their complaint to include the NIED claim. The Supreme Court granted plaintiffs’ motion in consideration of “specific recognition of the custody rights of grandparents with respect to their grandchildren.”
On appeal, the Appellate Division denied plaintiffs’ motion, upon the application of Bovson, that “immediate family” applies only to spouses and children. Upon review of the certified question, the Court of Appeals declined to decide the limits of the term “immediate family,” but rather determined whether a grandparent/grandchild relationship comes within the limits of the term. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals concluded “a grandchild is within [their] understanding of what is meant by “immediate family.” That is, given the recognition by this Court and the legislature that the relationship of grandparent and grandchild enjoys “special status” among familiar relationships […] inclusion of grandparents in the common-law term “immediate family” under these circumstances is more than warranted.” Id.
Thanks to Marysa Linares for her contribution to this post. Please contact Heather Aquino with any questions.