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Can You Seek Damages For Emotional Distress In A Personal Injury Case?


Filing a personal injury lawsuit is never an easy endeavor. Depending on the specifics of your case, you may be able to seek damages for a number of different injuries, both physical and otherwise. While recovery for physical injuries is the most common type sought – almost every personal injury case involves trying to recover one’s medical bills after an accident – but less tangible damages like emotional distress or mental anguish fall into a gray area. There are some cases in which a person can seek money damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress, but these are the exception, rather than the rule.

Know The Impact Rule

There are several different schools of thought regarding recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED). Some states forbid it entirely, while others allow it in specific situations. Florida is one of a handful of states that still retains what is known as the impact rule or physical impact rule – essentially, this rule requires that anyone seeking damages for emotional distress must show that it somehow manifested physically. Without any kind of external manifestation, the courts have rationalized, it is impossible to be able to discern whether the plaintiff actually suffered any kind of harm.

Most of the time, a claim for NIED is appended to a personal injury claim that deals with a physical injury, so no real issue exists as to whether one can recover for those causes of action or not. However, it is possible to recover solely for negligent infliction of emotional distress; it is simply less likely. A successful suit will involve establishing that someone’s negligent or reckless behavior caused you emotional distress. There are several ways to do that.

Exceptions Exist

In recent years, Florida’s courts have somewhat relaxed the requirements surrounding the impact rule, in effect allowing several exceptions. Essentially, it is recognized that physical impact is not necessary in certain situations for severe trauma to come about. Some include:

  • Being physically present and watching the significant injury or death of a family member;
  • Inhaling asbestos – the microscopic fibers causing damage over time was ruled to be sufficient ‘physical impact;’
  • Being prescribed HIV medication that causes physical injury, such as azidothymidine (AZT); and
  • A psychologist’s breach of their fiduciary duty to a patient.

All the exceptions make it so that the impact rule does not apply in cases where emotional distress is inflicted negligently. However, it is important to keep in mind that the impact rule does not apply in cases of intentional infliction of emotional distress, or in other types of cases that involve intentional torts like defamation. In those cases, the burden of proof will be different, and the way the case is approached must, by definition, be different.

Contact A Tampa Personal Injury Attorney

Being injured due to another person’s negligence or reckless behavior is an event that can change your entire life. If you have sustained emotional distress due to someone else’s behavior, the Tampa personal injury attorneys at the Rinaldo Law Group can offer compassionate and dedicated representation to you in what can be a difficult time in your life. Contact our offices today for a free consultation.

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