The ripple effects of September 11, 2001, continue to manifest themselves — even in Indiana negligence law. In Atlantic Coast Airlines v. Cook, 857 N.E.2d 989 (Ind. 2006), http://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/12060601rdr.pdf, an airline passenger, Frederic Girard, behaved erratically before the departure of his flight. A co-passenger told a flight attendant that he thought Girard was a security threat. The flight attendant acknowledged as much, but the plane took off anyway. Afterwards, Girard refused to remain in his seat, sat in various seats on the plane and lit a cigarette. Ultimately, a group of passengers approached Girard and ordered him to sit down. In response, Girard stomped his feet and shouted in French the words, "World Trade Center," "Americans," and "New York City." After this commotion, the pilot conducted an emergency landing and police placed Girard under arrest. These events occurred five months after September 11, 2001, and less than two months after a passenger on a flight from Paris to Miami lit a match on the airplane, purportedly to detonate explosives in his shoe. The passenger plaintiffs described their ordeal as one in which they "have never been so scared in their entire lives," and brought an action against the airline for negligent infliction of emotional distress.
To recover damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress in Indiana, a plaintiff must prove that the negligent conduct caused a direct "physical impact," though it need not result in physical injury. Plaintiffs tried to satisfy this requirement by pointing to the smoke from Girard's cigarette and the vibrations from his stomping feet. The Indiana Supreme Court, however, found these experiences too tenuous, and it found the cause of his distress too speculative to support plaintiffs' claims. The Court observed that many citizens experience the persistent nervousness claimed by plaintiffs simply as an artifact of life in a post-September 11 environment. According to the Court, it would amount to pure speculation to attribute plaintiffs' mental anguish about flying to the disturbance on their aborted flight.