Recovering for Emotional Distress in Florida: What You Need to Know

emotional distress

Personal injury accidents are traumatic. And many personal injury plaintiffs suffer either  temporary or permanent emotional damage as a result.

But can you recover for your emotional distress in a Florida personal injury case?

For example, what if you suffer from fear, anxiety, sleeplessness or depression because of some event (incident/accident) caused by the negligence of another? Can the compensation you seek in court encompass your emotional suffering?

The answer, for Florida personal injury plaintiffs is, “it depends.”

Damages in a Personal Injury Case

In a Florida personal injury claim, an injured plaintiff can recover for his/her economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages are damages that you can generally put a dollar amount on. Economic damages include such things as:

  • medical expenses
  • property damage repair costs
  • future medical treatment(s)
  • lost income
  • lost wages

Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are more difficult to quantify. They include such things as:

  • pain and suffering
  • mental anguish
  • loss of quality of life, and
  • other emotional injuries.

To recover for one’s damages in a personal injury case, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant (i.e., the at-fault party) breached a duty of care that he/she owed the plaintiff, and that as a result of this breach, the plaintiff was injured.

In Florida, personal injury plaintiffs frequently seek recovery for their emotional damages as part of their request for recovery for non-economic damages arising out of the accident/incident. The request is not unusual and is allowed because in most cases, there is a physical impact directly related to the plaintiff’s emotional injuries, or because it can be shown that the plaintiff’s emotional injuries manifested physically.

However, plaintiffs seeking to recover solely for emotional distress may have a difficult time recovering for their emotional damages because Florida, unlike most states, follows the “physical impact rule.”

Florida’s Physical Impact Rule

Known as Florida’s “impact rule” or “physical impact rule,” this legal precedent dates back to a 1893 case in which the court refused to allow a husband to recover for his emotional distress at not being able to be there as his wife lay dying or to attend her funeral because of the telegraph company’s failure to promptly transmit a telegram the hospital tried to send him.

The plaintiff’s “only injury” according to the court was for “mental suffering and disappointment in not being able to attend upon his wife in her last moments, and to be present at her funeral.”

Because the man had not suffered a physical impact, the court ruled that:

“…The resultant injury is one that soars so exclusively within the realms of spirit land that it is beyond the reach of the courts to deal with or to compensate by any of the known standards of value. …”

Since then, Florida law has required that either some kind of physical impact accompany emotional distress or that a person’s emotional injuries must be somehow physically manifested.

The rule, as applied in Florida, is that if there is a physical impact—even if only slight— then an injured plaintiff may recover for his/her emotional distress.

On the other hand, if there is no “touching” or even slight physical impact, recovery for purely emotional damage cannot be had, unless the emotional injury manifests itself into some kind of physical injury.

That is, unless…

…One of the Exceptions Applies

Since 1893, the Florida courts have carved out exceptions to the harsh impact rule. And yet the rule itself still exists and operates to prevent recovery for purely emotional distress.

The exceptions to the physical impact rule, which have been decided and continue to be decided on a case-by-case basis, include:

  • If the person ingests contaminated food or drinks
  • If a psychotherapist breaches the statutory duty of confidentiality and privacy
  • If an entity shares a person’s HIV test results in violation of law
  • If the person is the victim of an intentional tort, such as defamation, invasion of privacy, and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • If the person suffers from a “freestanding tort,” such as wrongful birth or negligent stillbirth.

In any of the above cases, a person can bring a claim for emotional distress even if there is no impact and there is no physical manifestation of the emotional damage.

These exceptions are narrow and are decided by the courts on a case-by-case basis. They are intended to provide relief only to those who suffer severe and substantial emotional injuries.

If you are a personal injury plaintiff in Florida, it is important that you understand the physical impact rule and how it might affect your case. Our experienced personal injury lawyers can help.


Personal Injury Lawyers in Florida Can Help   

Our attorneys are here to right wrongs and help injured individuals obtain the legal redress and compensation they deserve. If you have been injured due to the negligence of another, contact us here or simply call our firm at: 777-JOHN. We serve clients throughout Florida. Our main office is in Orange Park, but we have consulting offices in Palatka, Middleburg, Keystone, Starke, Gainesville, and Ocala.

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