When you are injured in an accident, damage beyond the physical can result. Your emotional well-being can be compromised as a result of an accident. This could cost you important relationships, and even your livelihood. Courts around the country are recognizing that emotional distress is severe enough that it deserves compensation. While Florida law recognizes emotional damages, it follows what is called the impact rule. To help you understand this rule, first we have to go over what emotional distress is and how it impacts your case.
Legal Definition of Emotional Distress
The first part is showing that emotional distress occurred. Keep in mind that the legal definition of emotional distress is far stricter than the layman’s definition. Every day we deal with aggression and rudeness that likely results in some form of distress. In no jurisdiction is being a jerk considered valid grounds for a lawsuit. As such, most states have three elements in common that must be met to pursue a personal injury claim.
The first requirement is that extreme or outrageous conduct occurred. This conduct has to be so far beyond the norm of day to day interaction that a person cannot be reasonably expected to cope with it. Somebody cutting you off in traffic or being rude to you on public transportation is neither extreme nor outrageous – just a common occurrence of day to day life. Finding out somebody is claustrophobic and then locking them in a small closet, on the other hand, would be considered both extreme and outrageous.
The next part is intent or recklessness. Emotional distress is a common result of negligence from another party, but to collect damages they have to have been reckless in their behavior. Hitting an innocent bystander in the street because you were speeding is one example of reckless behavior.
The final part is that the incident must have caused provable and quantifiable severe emotional distress. Being upset or angry is not enough to collect damages. Requiring psychiatric care for several years as a consequence of the incident is enough to collect on, however.
In many states, proof of emotional distress is enough to collect damages in a personal injury settlement. Florida, however, adheres to what is known as the “impact rule.” According to this rule, you are required to have suffered some form of physical harm or impact before emotional damages can be assessed.
Impact Rule of Florida
As a matter of public policy, Florida makes use of the impact rule because of the difficulty in confirming emotional damages. Furthermore, even if the emotional damage can be proven, it is difficult to affix a dollar amount to something that is purely mental. As a consequence, collection for emotional damages in Florida requires some form of physical harm to the victim. There is one big exception to the impact rule, however, and this exception can make or break your case.
If the victim of an accident is a close relative, you directly witnessed the event, and you were at the scene of the accident, then you can collect emotional damages even without suffering physical harm as a result. This exception is especially important in a wrongful death case, where the victim’s family is the only one around to pursue damages.
The important thing to keep in mind about the impact rule is that the emotional damage must flow directly into physical harm or vice versa. If you intentionally startle somebody into falling down the stairs, for example, the victim would be able to pursue a case against you for emotional damages. The important element is that causal link. Otherwise, the case may be thrown out.
Know Your Rights
Understanding the impact rule as it relates to emotional damages and your personal injury case is essential to collecting your full compensation. Whether or not you are due emotional damages will vary by case, so it is highly recommended you consult with an attorney. They will know whether or not Florida law allows you to collect emotional damages, and will advise appropriately.