Anyone who has been injured in an accident or a similar traumatic event knows that some of the most long-lasting pain is often more than physical. Victims of someone else’s negligence or intentionally wrongful behavior often experience psychological effects long after bruises have disappeared and bones have mended. The law refers to these unseen injuries as emotional distress.
As obvious as it might seem that victims should be compensated for their emotional suffering due to another party’s misconduct, the law can make recovering those damages complicated. In this post, we’ll explain Florida laws surrounding emotional distress injuries, and how the experienced personal injury lawyers at Dolman Law Group can help when your emotional suffering may entitle you to compensation.
What Is Emotional Distress?
Broadly speaking, emotional distress injuries are any negative psychological conditions caused by someone else’s negligent or intentionally wrongful conduct. Common emotional distress injuries can include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. An emotional distress injury can happen, for instance, in the aftermath of a car accident, in which a loved one dies or suffers severe, debilitating injuries. Or, it could happen in a non-accident setting, such as when an ex-partner stalks or assaults a former partner, resulting in serious emotional harm.
What Kinds of Emotional Distress Claims Can I Make in Florida?
Florida law permits two categories of claims to recover damages for emotional distress. The first is a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. As the name suggests, this kind of claim may be brought when someone intentionally or recklessly causes the victim severe emotional distress through their outrageous conduct. For example, it may be possible to recover emotional distress injuries in the case of severe abuse by an ex-partner, or when a supervisor aggressively harasses an employee. While outrageous can be difficult to quantify, typically conduct that operates outside the realm of ordinary, reasonable behavior is actionable. You may also make this kind of claim to recover damages for the emotional harm caused by defamation (such as libel and slander), or unreasonable invasion of personal privacy.
The second kind of emotional distress claim allowed under Florida law is called negligent infliction of emotional distress. In this kind of case, the person responsible might not have intended to cause your emotional distress, but instead acted in a way that violated a duty of care not to cause you harm. The lasting psychological trauma of being injured in a car accident, for example, could support this kind of claim. In these cases, while the defendant may have lacked the intent to directly cause harm, they nevertheless behaved in a manner that could be considered negligent under the law.
However, there is a limit to these claims: the so-called Impact Rule.
Florida’s Impact Rule Limits Emotional Distress Claims
Whenever a person claims emotional distress damages in Florida, lawyers and judges must frequently contend with the Impact Rule. However, ask an attorney to explain the Impact Rule, and there’s a good chance they’ll break into a sweat and try to change the subject.
In all seriousness though, as straightforward as recovering damages for emotional distress might seem in theory, in practice things can get complicated in a hurry.
In its most basic formulation, the Impact Rule says that to recover damages for emotional distress, the distress must flow from a physical injury that you suffered in an impact (hence, the Impact Rule). In other words, the Impact Rule limits claims for emotional distress only to something like the car accident example, in which the claimant is physically injured in a car wreck and, as a result of those physical injuries, also experience emotional trauma. The Rule means you cannot seek damages for emotional distress pursuant to a negligence claim if your only injury was emotional; for instances of purely emotional harm, the claimant must identify intentional harm pursuant to a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress (After all, if someone sets out to cause you emotional damage and succeeds, you should be able to recover).
Over time, however, the Impact Rule has evolved. More and more, Florida courts are recognizing that mental health injury is real, and there are many scenarios in which victims can suffer substantially from someone else’s actions without an apparent physical harm (or impact).
Today, Florida recognizes some exceptions to the basic Impact Rule, as these detailed reviews of the law courtesy of the Florida Bar Journal describe. Here are some illustrations of current exceptions to the Impact Rule:
Witnessing a loved one gets injured. In this exception to the basic Impact Rule, sometimes called the Relative Bystander Test, you can recover emotional distress damages caused by someone’s negligence if your severe emotional trauma also causes you physical harm (such as a heart attack or a stroke), but only if the negligent act also causes direct, physical injury to someone with whom you have a close, personal relationship and you are involved in the event that causes that loved one’s injury. So, to go back to the car accident example, if parents witness a car wreck (or another impact) that injures their child, and the emotional strain causes the parents to have a heart attack, the parent may claim damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Consuming contaminated food and drink. If you consume food or beverages that are contaminated, you may be able to recover emotional distress damages even if you don’t get physically ill. Florida courts recognize that the emotional strain alone of not knowing whether you will get sick is a foreseeable harm that entitles you to damages.
Psychotherapist breaks confidentiality/doctor discloses HIV test. You can also recover emotional distress damages if your therapist breaches their duty of confidentiality and privacy, or if a medical provider improperly releases results of an HIV test. No physical injuries necessarily flow from these acts, and there is no impact to speak of, but Florida law recognizes that these actions—even if they result from negligence—are so likely to result in extreme emotional distress that a claim for damages is valid.
Infant stillbirth/wrongful birth. Cases in which a child is stillborn or born injured as a result of someone’s negligence (usually a health care provider) are also so obviously and foreseeably emotionally devastating to parents that Florida courts allow a claim for emotional distress damages as an exception to the Impact Rule.
Unsure if You Have an Emotional Distress Claim in New Port Richey? Dolman Law Group Can Help
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Impact Rule is highly controversial among Florida lawyers who represent accident victims. Not only can it tie even the most skilled lawyers in knots if they are unfamiliar with its ins-and-outs, but it can also result in some terribly unfair outcomes for plaintiffs (as this blog post explores).
If you or a loved one has suffered emotional distress because of someone else’s wrongful actions in New Port Richey, the experienced personal injuries at Dolman Law Group can help. We are dedicating to helping victims and their families navigate Florida’s complex personal injury laws, and can help you understand whether you have a claim.
Dolman Law Group
5435 Main Street
New Port Richey, FL 34652