Zone of danger and emotional injury

| Jun 8, 2021 | Maritime Law |

Maritime law is like persona injury law in many states because it allows a plaintiff to collect damages for emotional injuries as long as there are also physical injuries or symptoms of injury. However, the 5th Circuit Court potentially expanded the range of knowable emotional injury claims during a case where plaintiff/fishermen tried to help workers from the Deepwater Horizon platform tragedy.

Defining zone of danger

The court allowed a “zone of danger” test where the plaintiff can claim injury. The test involves such thresholds as:

  • The victim subjectively feared they were in danger.
  • The victim was objectively at greater or immediate risk of danger.
  • The victim alleges that they were unable to leave the dangerous area.

Court denies claim

The victims argued that they met the zone of danger requirements because the heat of the fire burned their faces, singed their hair and the rescue effort caused scratches and bruises. They also argued that they were objectively in greater or immediate danger because of explosions, intense heat and noise generated by the catastrophe.

The court ruled that the evidence was insufficient for a claim. Moreover, the bench pointed out that the fishermen were not on the platform and could also maneuver their boat away from the danger. While the plaintiffs lost the case, there now appears to be a zone of danger test for the 5th Circuit. This could impact future cases related to emotional injuries and whether the plaintiff entered a zone of danger area.