Coward v. Gagne & Sons Concrete Blocks, Inc.Annotate this Case
The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the superior court in favor of Gagne & Son Concrete Blocks, Inc. on the claims brought by Thomas and Lisa Coward that arose out of an accident at the Cowards' home involving Thomas's son, Philip Coward, holding that the court misapplied the contemporaneous perception factor as articulated in precedent regarding bystander actions.
Philip died after a one-ton load of rebar fell on him while a Gagne & Son employee was unloading the rebar from a truck using a forklift. The Cowards' complaint alleged, in part, claims of bystander negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED). The Cowards argued that Thomas contemporaneously perceived the accident because he heard the accident occur, arrived seconds later, and witnessed his injured son die. The trial court entered summary judgment against Thomas on his bystander NIED claim, concluding that Thomas did not meet the contemporaneous perception factor for a bystander NIED claim. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a bystander may satisfy the "contemporaneous perception" element by demonstrating that he otherwise perceived that event as it occurred and then witnessed the immediate aftermath of that event; and (2) Gagne & Son was not entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.