What Is the Florida Impact Rule?

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Seeing a serious accident up close can cause severe emotional injury. Those who have witnessed a gruesome sight often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Being in harm’s way in an accident and seeing someone get severely injured up close can forever change someone’s life, especially when the person injured was an immediate family member.

However, there are some limits as to who may file an emotional distress claim after either seeing a severe accident or being the victim of someone else’s conduct. The Pensacola personal injury attorneys at Stevenson Klotz Injury Lawyers can explain how this Florida law works and whether you may be entitled to financial compensation for emotional distress.

The Florida Impact Rule Is a Law Regarding Emotional Distress

Florida personal injury law restricts your ability to obtain damages for emotional distress. In Florida, you can only receive emotional distress damages if there is an impact on your body. In other words, you cannot be paid based on what you saw unless you were physically impacted by the accident.

This legal rule is not in the state statutes. Instead, the doctrine was created by the Florida Supreme Court in 1893 in the case of International Ocean Telegraph Co. v. Saunders. In this case, a man sued a telegraph company for failing to transmit a message that his wife was dying, and he was immediately needed at the hospital. He claimed emotional distress from not being at his wife’s side as she died. The trial court awarded him damages, but the Supreme Court reversed the award, claiming that Florida law did not support compensation for “spiritual injuries.”

Even though Florida is an outlier among states, the impact rule is still a valid law. The Florida Supreme Court took a case in 1972 to explicitly consider whether it should abolish the rule. In Stewart v. Gilliam, the court refused to do away with the impact rule, claiming that it saw no reason to do so.

There Are Some Exceptions to the Florida Impact Rule

Over time, courts have been carving out exceptions to the impact rules.

In Florida, there is one major exception to the impact rule. If you suffered physical injuries because of your emotional distress, you could receive compensation.

For example, you may have developed the following as a result of your emotional distress:

  • A stomach ulcer
  • Chest pains
  • Severe migraines

In Zell v. Meek, the Florida Supreme Court continued to broaden this exception when the plaintiff suffered a physical injury nine months after she suffered emotional distress from seeing her father die at the hands of a bomber.

How to Prove Emotional Distress without Physical Impact

A plaintiff seeking damages for an emotional injury in Florida will need to prove the following elements:

  • They suffered a physical injury.
  • The physical injury was caused by psychological trauma.
  • The plaintiff must have been involved in the negligent event causing severe injury to another.
  • The plaintiff had a close relationship with the person who was physically injured.

In the absence of a physical injury caused by emotional distress, any impact on the body will be enough to allow a plaintiff to qualify for damages.

In one case, a woman was physically groped in a robbery when a hotel security guard made her park across the street. A court held that she could recover for emotional distress because she was physically touched.

Touching of the Body May Be Enough for an Emotional Distress Claim

Thus, impact does not necessarily mean that you have suffered a concrete physical injury. If your body was touched as a result of the defendant’s negligence, and you suffered emotional distress, you can receive financial compensation.

If there is no touching of or to the body, the emotional distress must be so extreme that it causes a physical manifestation. In other words, emotional distress must make you physically ill.

Nonetheless, emotional distress is still a part of a personal injury claim when you have suffered a physical injury. It is part of your non-economic damages. As the claimant, you have the burden of proof to show that you have suffered emotional distress. The insurance company or the jury will review treatment records from a mental health professional to understand and quantify the level of emotional distress and how it is tied to what happened.

Emotional Distress Claims Can Be Highly Subjective

Therefore, you will need to get prompt mental health treatment for your condition. Emotional distress damages are very subjective, and you cannot expect the insurance company to take your word for it.

Regardless of what happened, claims for emotional distress are always difficult because of their subjective nature. You can expect that if your claim is solely for emotional distress, it will be denied at first, forcing you into litigation. Therefore, you should always consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you file this claim with the insurance company to have the best chances of success.

Contact a Pensacola Personal Injury Attorney Today

Stevenson Klotz Injury Lawyers know how to handle difficult personal injury claims. We take on insurance companies that try to put up barriers and red tape that keep you from getting the money that you deserve. Our attorneys are aggressive when they need to be to fight for your legal rights.

First, you need to reach out to us to schedule an initial consultation. We can be reached at (850) 444-0000, or you can send us a message online to speak to one of our attorneys.

Personal Injury Claim FAQs

What type of damages can I get for emotional distress?

You can be paid for every way that the emotional distress has impacted your life, including lost wages when you were unable to work.

What can I do if the insurance company denies my claim?

Many cases involving emotional distress are decided in court due to the insurance company denying the claim. Stevenson Klotz Injury Lawyers are ready to BRING IT to the insurance company in court if your claim has been denied.

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