Understanding Emotional Distress Claims
When you find yourself, victim, of an accident, it can be painful and stressful. Dealing with the paperwork and people involved is sure to give you more headaches than you’re used to. For many who have suffered preventable accidents, they are also left to deal with emotional trauma—which is compensable through the eyes of the law. It’s important to note that pain and suffering and emotional distress are different when it comes to personal injury claims. While pain and suffering are tied to a personal injury claim, emotional distress can be considered a claim in its own right. This means that it’s often more difficult to recover compensation for emotional suffering. Common types of emotional distress include anxiety, depression, guilt, insomnia, fear.
Florida is one of just five remaining states that subscribe to something called the impact rule when weighing claims of emotional distress. Also known as the physical impact rule, or Florida impact rule, it requires plaintiffs who are seeking financial compensation for non-economic damages to prove they also experienced some physical impact or that their emotional injuries somehow physically manifested. There are some exceptions to this rule such as a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress and the negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Although the Florida Supreme Court and the state legislature have rejected numerous attempts to abolish the impact rule, they have set out several exceptions. Among those are cases involving:
- Ingesting contaminated food or beverages.
- A psychotherapist who breaches their legal duty of patient privacy and confidentiality.
- An entity that shares the results of an HIV test in violation of F.S. 381.004.
- Victims of intentional torts (i.e., invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation).
- Negligent infliction of emotional distress – Florida law claim that, while quite rare is technically possible.
- Family members. In some cases under certain circumstances, courts have allowed family members to recover emotional distress damages without having to prove physical contact. An example would be a person who witnesses a close relative suffering a serious injury or wrongful death.
- Freestanding torts, such as negligent stillbirth or wrongful birth. (These mostly occur when there is a special relationship, such as doctor-patient, school-student, etc.)
Types of Emotional Distress Claims
There are two types of emotional distress claims: negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Negligent infliction of emotional distress
This is when the defendant commits an act unintentionally causing you emotional harm. As a negligence-based cause of action, the courts will seek to determine whether the defendant breached a duty of care to the plaintiff, causing emotional distress. There are two main questions the court will ask to decide a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress. First, has the plaintiff demonstrated that he or she has suffered a severe emotional injury? Since claims of psychological injury can be subjective, many jurisdictions require that the mental harm be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as nausea, headache, or any other physical manifestation of the mental trauma.
The second question the courts will ask is, how closely tied is the plaintiff’s injury to the defendant’s negligent conduct. Typical cases are car accidents due to negligent driving.
Intentional infliction of emotional distress
This type of claim occurs when the defendant intentionally or recklessly inflicts emotional trauma upon another individual. Certain kinds of behavior, under specific conditions, can be deeply offensive and psychologically damaging to other people, even if there is no threat of physical harm. Since the definition of offensive conduct is subjective by its very nature, the courts have set high standards to make out a claim for intentional infliction of emotional harm. To be successful, the plaintiff must show that the defendant intentionally or recklessly engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct which caused severe emotional distress to another person.
The key question in emotional distress cases is whether the defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous. This is a subjective determination and must be decided on a case-by-case basis. The most widely accepted standard is conduct that is “so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”
While you can sue for emotional distress, the entire process can be difficult. Symptoms of emotional distress may not be visible to the average person, which makes documenting your trauma all the more vital. Establishing a connection between negligence or intent to the damage done is very tricky.
If you decide to pursue an emotional distress claim, it is best to contact an attorney to guide you throughout the process. 1-800-411-PAIN can direct you to a legal team that is experienced and knowledgeable in dealing with the legal system. If you are experiencing emotional trauma following an accident, call 1-800-411-PAIN and get the help you need! We will refer you to the attorneys that will fight to get you the compensation you deserve and the medical attention you need. If you have been hurt in an accident, call 1-800-411-PAIN, and we will guide you in finding you the best medical and legal professionals.