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Obtaining Damages For Emotion Distress In Florida


Pleading emotional damages can be a tricky area of personal injury law. Sometimes, emotional damages make sense. For example, if you are hit by a car and suffer a permanent injury that causes you long-term recurring pain and injury, it makes sense that you should be compensated for the emotional distress caused by the ongoing pain.

In fact, this is the basis of the Impact Rule in Florida, which requires that before someone can recover for emotional distress caused by the negligent acts of another party, he must prove that the emotional distress was caused by a physical impact.

In other situations, the relationship between a negligent act and the emotional distress is not as clear cut, and the picture gets rather murky. Take, for example, the true story behind the Florida Supreme Court case Champion v. Gray.

In that case, a girl walking along a sidewalk was killed when a drunken driver swerved off the road and struck her. When the girl’s mother heard the impact from the accident, she hurried to the scene of the accident, only to find that her daughter had died from the impact. The mother, overcome with shock and grief from her daughter’s death, collapsed and died at the scene of the accident.

Clearly, the drunk driver is responsible for the death of the daughter, but is he also responsible for causing the emotional distress that resulted in the mother’s death as well?

Based on the Impact Rule, the answer is no, but this doesn’t seem like an entirely fair result. For that reason, most states have actually gotten rid of the Impact Rule, allowing people who have suffered emotional distress due to the negligent acts of another, even if there was not physical impact.

Florida’s Exceptions To The Impact Rule

Although Florida has not gotten rid of the Impact Rule, it has created a limited exception to the Impact Rule over the years to address situations like the one in Champion.

Champion was the first exception. Finding the Impact Rule to be too harsh a rule in such a situation, the Florida Supreme Court stated that the Impact Rule did not apply when:

  • the person suffering the emotional distress also suffered a significant physical injury;
  • the physical injury resulted from the emotion distress;
  • the emotional distress was caused by negligent acts which resulted in physical injury to someone else;
  • the person who was physically injured and the person who suffered emotional distress had a close and personal relationship; and
  • the person who suffered the emotional distress was in the proximity of the events that caused the physical injury.

Later, the Florida Supreme Court expanded the Champion exception by ruling that the physical injury caused by the emotional distress does not have to occur immediately following the incident that caused the emotional distress. For example, if the mother in Champion had not died immediately at the scene of the accident, but developed a heart condition several days later as a result of the shock, she could still recover damages for negligent emotional distress.

Finally, the Florida Supreme Court expanded the exception even further so that if the person suffering the emotional distress was “touched” during the incident, even if it wouldn’t be considered an impact sufficient to result in physical injury, the person may recover damages for emotional distress even without a correlating physical injury.

If you or a loved one were injured in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you are not only entitled to compensation for your bodily and property damages, but also for emotional damages. But emotional distress claims in Florida can become rather complicated, and it is in your best interest to contact an experienced personal injury attorney.

During his time as a public attorney for the State of Florida, Bernard Walsh developed a passion for defending the legal rights of Florida's citizens. Having seen many people being taken advantage of after being injured and the financial harm that can cause for families he committed himself fully to helping injured clients get justice, by fighting to make greedy insurance companies pay what they owe.

Obtaining Damages For Emotion Distress In Florida

Goldman Babboni Fernandez
Murphy & Walsh




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