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03/09/66 Ethel D. Parrish, v. United States of America
March 9, 1966
ETHEL D. PARRISH, APPELLANT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE 1966.CDC.45 DATE DECIDED: MARCH 9, 1966
Bastian, Senior Circuit Judge, Burger and McGowan, Circuit Judges.
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT
On this appeal complaint is made that the District Court, trying this automobile negligence case without a jury, erroneously limited its award of damages for personal injuries to $300. Having first found liability, the court then heard evidence with respect to damages. Its resulting findings were that appellant, while riding in a car driven by her husband, suffered injuries to her right shoulder and lacerations of her left arm when the car collided with another. These were the injuries in respect of which the $300 was allowed.
Appellant had sought to establish in addition, however, that her physical injuries had given rise to a neurotic condition which had eventually rendered her unable to continue in her employment. There was other evidence which suggested that appellant's neurotic ills were not necessarily the result of her physical injuries in the auto accident but could have flowed from other causes.
The District Court made no findings on this point. Instead, it concluded that the law of this jurisdiction was to the effect that only a "substantial" physical injury could be made the occasion for an award of damages in respect of a consequent nervous disorder. Finding the physical injuries involved here not to be substantial in this sense, the court determined as a matter of law that the nervous disorder could under no circumstances be compensable. *fn1
We are not concerned here with a case where no physical injuries of any kind were sustained. *fn2 The court did in fact make a more than merely nominal award of damages in respect of such injuries. In such a case, we think it undesirable to dispose of the claim by drawing a legal conclusion in terms of what is at best a difficult and shadowy distinction between susbtantial and insubstantial physical injury, instead of finding whether appellant has established by a preponderance of the evidence that her nervous troubles were attributable to the injuries sustained in the accident.
The case is remanded to the District Court for reexamination of its findings in the light of this opinion and for a finding whether appellant's alleged psychiatric disorders are a proximate result of the physical injuries sustained by her in the manner already found by the court. If an affirmative finding is made, the issue of damages is also to be reexamined.
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