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What Is Florida’s Impact Rule?


Most of the time, a person can only file a personal injury lawsuit if they have sustained a physical injury, and that injury can be shown to have been directly caused by another person’s negligence. One might notice that the injury must be physical; in Florida, a person may not recover damages in personal injury for a purely mental or emotional injury unless they can show a physical injury as well. This is called the impact rule, and it can and does make it difficult for many road accident victims to recover.

Preventing False Claims, Possibly Harming Injured People

In personal injury law, there are two types of damages that an injured plaintiff can potentially recover. Economic damages are quantifiable; examples include medical bills and lost wages. Non-economics are the intangible costs, such as loss of quality of life, mental anguish, and reputational damage or humiliation. Because they are intangible, mental or emotional injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or panic disorder are difficult to prove; the impact rule requires that they come with a tangible physical injury in order for their damages to be recoverable.

In theory, this makes sense, because requiring a physical injury helps to eliminate false claims – after all, without this rule, anyone could simply say they had suffered trauma without concrete proof of harm being required. However, as time has gone on, psychology has evolved beyond the origin point of the impact rule and society has become more and more aware of the harm that mental and emotional trauma can do to an otherwise functional person. People who may not have been physically injured in an accident – for example, some lucky car passengers, or pedestrians – may still be profoundly affected by what they have witnessed, and they have little recourse to try and recover for their harm.

Exceptions Exist

Despite the perceived harshness of the impact rule, Florida’s courts have carved out a handful of exceptions, where certain significant factors are seen as serious enough to warrant allowing someone to sue for emotional damages. Perhaps the most common is a person who has witnessed the “significant physical injury” or death of a loved one; if they have actually witnessed the injury or the person’s passing (merely ‘hearing about it’ is insufficient), they are entitled to file suit against the person who allegedly caused it and seek emotional damages. That harm is “too great” to require physical contact, according to Florida’s Supreme Court in Champion v. Gray (1985).

Other exceptions to the impact rule include the inhalation of asbestos fibers (while not technically a physical injury, state courts have recognized it as one for purposes of the impact rule), the ‘negligent dissemination’ of one’s HIV status, and instances where a psychologist wrongfully breaches their fiduciary duty. These exceptions are all considered to cause so much pain and distress that injury – even physical injury – is reasonably foreseeable.

Contact A Tampa Auto Accident Lawyer

If you have been in an auto accident, the ramifications may change your life if they are serious enough; however, if you have witnessed an auto accident, the harm may be just as real. Contacting a Tampa auto accident lawyer from the Rinaldo Law Group can help you get answers to your questions, and to be aware of what your options are going forward. We are ready and willing to try and help you – call our office today for a free consultation.



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