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Understanding Florida’s Impact Rule


When you are in an accident of any kind, it is expected that you won’t just sustain physical injury, but that there will be some emotional trauma as well. Pain, suffering, anxiety, depression, and many other cognitive problems can arise.

Courts give value to, and recognize these injuries, because it’s natural to think that if you are in an accident and sustain physical injury, that there can be emotional trauma as well. But what if there are no physical injuries or even any physical impact? Can you still recover for emotional trauma?

Situations Where There is Only Emotional Damage

There are many situations where a victim may have emotional trauma or damages, in the absence of any physical injury. Imagine knowing that you ate or drank food that had a foreign object in it. Or, being told that you had a terminal disease, when you in fact did not. Or finding out that a loved ones’ dead body was damaged, or mishandled somehow?

In all these situations, there is no physical injury, and your physical body may not even be touched. But they are all certainly traumatic enough to cause emotional distress.

The Impact Rule

The problem is that courts generally distrust emotional-only damages, in the absence of any physical injury. It is too easy, courts believe, to fake these types of damages. That is why Florida has developed the impact rule. The impact rule says that you must have some physical impact to get emotional damages. The physical impact doesn’t have to be severe, or even very damaging. But there does have to be a “touching” of some sort in the accident to get damages for your emotional trauma.

When You Can Get Emotional Damages

There are some exceptions, where a victim can get emotional damages, even in the absence of physical injury or touching. They include:

  • Eating or drinking contaminated products
  • Witnessing a close family relative sustain an accident (such as a parent who witnesses a child get hit by a car), or even a medical condition like a heart attack, that stems from or which is caused by an accident
  • Wrongful birth cases, or other cases where an infant may be injured by the negligence of a health care provider
  • Intentional wrongs, such as defamation, invasion of privacy, battery, or sexual assault
  • Improper diagnosis of, and publication to others of, an HIV test

Minor Touching Can Qualify

In some cases, to assist victims in recovery, courts will allow even the most minor of touching to satisfy the physical contact requirement. For example, in one case, a woman was told to park her car across the street. She did, and was robbed at gunpoint. She sued for emotional trauma, and the court ruled that the simple act of the robber’s gun touching her satisfied the physical impact requirement.

Schedule a consultation today with Barbas, Nunez, Sanders, Butler & Hovsepian if you sustain any kind of injury in an accident. Our Tampa personal injury lawyers can help explain your rights, and present your claim to an insurance company and the jury.


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