Switch to ADA Accessible Theme
Close Menu

Is Emotional Distress A “Minor Injury?”


When someone suffers an injury due to the negligence of another person, that injury may be actionable in court. However, most of the time, people only file suit over physical injuries. Emotional distress is seen as a more minor issue in the majority of cases, and yet it is emotional distress (also called mental anguish) that can lead to some of the most significant, long-lasting trauma a person can experience. In Florida, it is possible to file suit for emotional distress damages only in certain cases, though the perception of emotional distress as “minor” is only one of the reasons such a suit might not go forward.

A Specific Legal Definition

While emotional distress is real and can cause serious mental health issues, it is important to understand that the concept does have a specific legal definition. Merely having one’s feelings hurt or being shocked does not rise to the level of emotional distress, at least not for legal purposes; in Florida, the damage must be severe, even life-changing, for it to be actionable. In other words, it is not possible to seek money damages for any emotional distress suffered unless it has created a significant psychological condition (for example, post-traumatic stress disorder or panic disorder).

Despite this, even if you have suffered enough damage to be diagnosed with a psychological condition, it is not easy to prevail in a suit of this type in Florida. One might think the reason why has to do with the fact that emotional distress is often seen as “minor” – that is, something that most people should be able to ‘shrug off,’ lest they seem “weak.” However, the real prevailing reason is simply because emotional distress is difficult to objectively establish, and without a tangible injury, no case exists.

Observe The Impact Rule

In many states, it is possible to seek damages in court based solely on negligent (or intentional) infliction of emotional distress, provided the right evidence is available. Florida law, however, retains an older statute on the books that severely limits these types of cases. It is referred to as the “impact rule,” and it states that with very rare exceptions, the emotional distress must “flow” from a physical impact in order to be compensable.

The rationale for this decision is that emotional distress is too intangible an injury to stand on its own, except in situations where the anguish is so profound that imposing a physical injury requirement would be unnecessary (for example, Florida distinguishes a case in which a man was able to recover damages for the death of his wife, who suffered a fatal heart attack upon viewing their deceased daughter’s remains). However, “intangible” does not mean “minor,” and should not be taken in that manner.

Contact A Tampa Personal Injury Attorney 

Suffering emotional distress in a personal injury lawsuit can be just as serious as any physical injury. If you have experienced severe mental anguish, know that a Tampa personal injury attorney from the Rinaldo Law Group can offer compassionate and knowledgeable representation in a time when you may have no idea where to turn. Contact our office today at (813) 831-9999 for a free consultation.



Facebook Twitter LinkedIn