How Does Florida Legally View Emotional Distress Damages?

While legal questions demand legal answers, most emotional distress lawsuits are fairly straightforward. In many states, emotional distress lawsuits (or claims for emotional damages) are precisely that: lawsuits where one person is suing an entity for the emotional distress that that entity, through their actions or negligence, inflicted on the claimant. 

However, in Florida, emotional distress lawsuits are much more particular.

Emotional Distress Lawsuits in Florida & the Impact Rule

Emotional distress laws in Florida are generally the same as any other states’ emotional damages laws, with one major exception: the impact rule. This rule demands that, for a claim of emotional distress to be successful, the claimant be “physically impacted.” 

So, an emotional distress lawsuit will likely fail if the claimant was never “touched” or “harmed” by the entity causing the emotional distress. This has resulted in situations where emotional distress was verifiably evident, but the victim’s emotional distress lawsuit was disregarded due to their lack of physical injury.

Emotional Distress Cases That Have Been Disregarded Due to the Impact Rule

The impact rule has forced numerous emotionally distressed Floridians to walk away from a lawsuit with nothing. 

In one case, a broken accelerator in a car forced a man to witness the death of his mother; however, because he was not “touched” or “harmed,” he could not sue for emotional distress. 

In another case, a man was diagnosed with HIV and believed he had HIV for a year and a half. However, 19 months after the first diagnosis, the man was tested again. This time the test came back negative, revealing the man never had HIV. The man sued the doctor who diagnosed him with HIV for emotional distress, but his case was thrown out because the doctor had not “touched” the man and caused him physical harm.

One Important Emotional Distress Case Tests the Limits of the Impact Rule

One emotional distress case pushed the boundaries of the impact rule and defined “impact” and “touching.” A woman checked into a hotel and found that the parking lot was full. Hotel security informed her there was parking across the street. When the woman asked if it was safe to park there, the security guard affirmed it was. The woman wanted the guard to come along to keep her safe, but the security guard would not accompany her.

Alone, the woman decided to park the car where the security guard had recommended. However, as she exited her rental car, she was held up at gunpoint. The man put the gun to her head and put his hands on her. He eventually stole the rental car and left her in the parking lot. The woman sued the hotel owners for emotional distress, and her suit was successful because the man “impacted” her with the tip of his gun. This case defined “impact” as any touching, despite the fact that the touch may not have left physical evidence of injury.

Exceptions to the “Impact” Rule

While many emotional distress cases have been denied due to the impact clause, some exceptions undermine the impact clause and can result in a successful emotional distress suit in the state of Florida.

Exceptions to the impact rule include situations involving:

  • Consumption of contaminated foods
  • Psychotherapists who breach confidentiality
  • Entities that share the results of an HIV test
  • Victims of intentional torts (defamation, invasion of privacy)
  • Freestanding torts (wrongful birth, negligent stillbirths)

Talk to Our Attorneys About Your Case Today at (305) 770-6335 

Due to the “impact” clause found in emotional distress laws in Florida, navigating an emotional distress case can be difficult. However, with the right legal representation, your emotional distress could end with a verdict or settlement. At Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, P.A, our Miami personal injury attorneys are dedicated to providing emotionally distressed individuals with professional representation, relentless advocacy, and genuine peace of mind. We keep our caseload small so your case gets the time, resources, and attention it needs to succeed. This practice of “small client base, big results” has led our firm to recover hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of our clients.

If you need answers concerning your emotional distress case, call (305) 770-6335 for a free consultation.