Witnessing a fatal accident is bound to be a jarring experience - but should it be grounds for a lawsuit demanding compensation?

The California Supreme Court thinks it should, in the case of a David Ballinger and Jacqueline Didier.These two were riding an aerial tram in Palm Springs, Calif., when a freak accident killed another of the 50 passengers.

Ballinger and Didier were spattered with the woman's blood. Now, although they incurred no medical expenses from the incident, they are being allowed to sue 11 defendants, including the state agency operating the tram and the engineer and companies that designed, built and maintained it.

This is a wildly imprudent extension of liability. In the past, courts have permitted compensation for emotional trauma from accidents caused by negligence - but only when the accident victim and the witness were close relatives.

California is apparently ready to compensate bystanders who see a total stranger hurt.

The rest of the country can't afford to shrug off this novelty, since California often sets the legal trend. Chalk up a significant advance for the view that bad luck merits compensation through the courts.