When an accident occurs, victims can recover not only for their physical damages but also for damages for emotional distress related to the accident. Under certain conditions, family members may also sue for damages arising from the same accident for negligent infliction of emotional distress . However, both victims and their family members cannot recover any damages for emotional distress, mental anguish or pain and suffering if these damages cannot be connected by admissible evidence to a physical injury.
This is known as the “Impact Rule” and its underlying public policy is to prevent fraud. Because emotional injuries are far more difficult to discern than physical injuries, the requirement of a physical injury makes it more difficult for dishonest individuals to file fraudulent claims. However, there need not be a significant “impact” for courts to find and award damages for emotional distress. If there is any outside force or substance, however small or slight, that touches or enters the victim’s body, then the requirements of the rule are met. Eagle-Picher Industries, Inc. v. Cox, 481 So.2d 517, 527 (Fla. 3d DCA 1985).
As with most legal doctrines, the Impact Rule contains some exceptions. Extraordinary circumstances, which are usually rare, must exist to substantiate a claim for damages from emotional distress without an impact. These include individuals that suffer emotional distress after a wrongful birth or stillbirth; victims of willful and wanton negligence; patients whose confidentiality has been breached by their psychotherapist Gracey v. Eaker, 837 So. 2d 348 (Fla. 2002); claims for defamation and invasion of privacy; and, of course, claims for the intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Claims for emotional distress are not easy to prove in many cases sometimes because of the “Impact Rule.” Your personal injury attorney will need to provide admissible evidence to do this, and, in addition, will need to prove that (1) you as the plaintiff suffered a physical injury; (2) your physical injury must be caused by the psychological trauma; (3) you must be involved in some way in the event causing the negligent injury to another; and (4) (if you are a bystander that has suffered emotional distress) you must have a close personal relationship to the directly injured person. Zell v. Meek, 665 So. 2d 1048, 1054 (Fla. 1995). Typically, the defendant’s insurance company will base its defense upon allegations that the claim for emotional distress is fake or, at least, unsupported by any evidence.
If you or a family member has suffered emotional distress as the result of the act or omission of another, call Board Certified Personal Injury attorney Bryan Caulfield. Bryan Caulfield can answer your questions, and determine whether you may have suffered the impact necessary to have a valid claim for emotional distress. Bryan Caulfield’s decades of experience representing his clients involved in all types of accidents and can help you and your family recover the compensation you deserve for your injuries. Contact Bryan Caulfield today.