The Derrick Rose lawsuit and emotional distress claims in South Carolina

Here at Abnormal Use, we’ve been involved in many cases in which the plaintiff alleges intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress as a cause of action.  Cynical defense attorneys that we are, we are often skeptical–or even dismissive–of these damages, because they are so subjective and easily exaggerated.  Recently, we came across some stories about a lawsuit in which a fan sued Derrick Rose for emotional distress.  Yes, you read right.  A fan is suing a player on a pro sports team because he doesn’t like what was going on with the team and one player in particular.

Some background.  Derrick Rose is one of the stars–or the star–of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls.  Last year, during the 2012 playoffs, Rose blew out the ACL in his knee, requiring surgery and some time off from playing to heal, rehab, and recover.  There has been some scuttlebutt recently about the fact that Rose, who has been cleared by doctors to return to the Bulls since March 9, hasn’t taken the floor.  Moreover, it doesn’t look like he’s going to play for the remainder of the season, even though the Bulls could definitely use him.

All of this must be a little upsetting to Bulls fans.  Fans are probably frustrated, maybe even a tad bit angry at Rose.  But only one has decided that Rose’s failure to return has caused him such distress and emotional turmoil that he wants Rose to be held–yep, you guessed it–legally liable for that distress.

Meet Matthew Thompson, a 25-year-old Bulls fan from Peoria, Illinois.  He’s apparently been so upset by Rose’s absence that he’s put on a little weight.  So, as reported by the Houston Chronicle (along with several other news outlets), he’s suing Derrick Rose.  Because that’s what we do in America!

Common sense, if not legal training, shows that this lawsuit is just ludicrous.  But it’s also a good time to review the law of negligently inflicted emotional distress claims (since, we assume, Rose did not intentionally blow out his own knee just to hurt Thompson’s feelings).  Let’s assume the suit was brought in South Carolina.  The South Carolina Supreme Court considered the limits of recovery for bystander emotional distress in Kinard v. Augusta Sash & Door Co., 286 S.C 579, 336 S.E.2d 465 (1985).  The Kinard Court held that a bystander may recover for his or her emotional injuries under the following conditions:

(a) the negligence of the defendant must cause death or serious physical injury to another;
(b) the plaintiff bystander must be in close proximity to the accident;
(c) the plaintiff and the victim must be closely related;
(d) the plaintiff must contemporaneously perceive the accident; and
(e) the emotional distress must both manifest itself by physical symptoms capable of objective diagnosis and be established by expert testimony.

Id. at 582-583.  Of course, we don’t know all the facts.  Thompson may have been sitting in the front row when Rose blew out his knee.  Thompson and Rose may be closely related.  We seriously doubt, however, that either of these conditions would be met by Thompson’s case.  We are confident, however, that Thompson could find some doctor somewhere to attribute the cause of his weight gain to the disappointment Thompson feels at the Bulls’ predicament.  In any case, we are curious to see how this case proceeds, if it proceeds at all.

All we know is that if this case survives, or if Thompson is paid one penny by Rose to settle the lawsuit, it could potentially open the floodgates.  This will be especially true in Chicago, where long-suffering Cubs fans will retain counsel faster than their team can race to the bottom of the NL Central.

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