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Attorney Sanga Turnbull

How Florida’s ‘Impact Rule’ Precludes Recovery of Damages in Personal Injury Cases

On Behalf of | May 14, 2020 | Personal Injury

Under Florida law, you are entitled to monetary compensation for the harm you have experienced at the hands of a negligent individual or entity. However, Florida law also has the so-called “impact rule” that could bar you from obtaining the compensation you deserve.

What is Florida’s Impact Rule?

In personal injury cases, the impact rule can prevent you from recovering damages if you suffered non-physical damages – such as emotional distress or pain and suffering – without a physical injury.

In other words, plaintiffs in Florida are unable to recover any damages for emotional harm if they suffered no direct physical impact. While the impact rule can be a big headache for those without a physical injury, there are exceptions to this rule. With the help of a results-driven Lakeland personal injury attorney, you may be able to obtain compensation despite the impact rule.

According to the Florida Bar, the state’s impact rule takes its roots back to 1893. Florida is one of few states that are still following the ancient rule in personal injury cases.

However, there are exceptions to the impact rule in Florida. In specific circumstances, a plaintiff may be eligible to seek compensation for their emotional injury even if no physical impact occurred. However, the plaintiff must suffer some type of physical harm resulting from their emotional injury in order for the exception to apply.

Why the Impact Rule Precludes Recovery of Damages

Most physical injuries are visible. This makes it easier to determine the victim’s damages and compensation for those injuries by looking at medical bills, lost wages, and other tangible losses. Emotional injuries, on the other hand, cannot be seen and can be evaluated only subjectively.

For instance, while a motorcyclist’s traumatic brain injury is visible after a motorcycle accident, a car passenger’s emotional distress caused by the same crash cannot be seen. Florida’s impact rule prevents plaintiffs from seeking compensation for purely emotional injuries if no physical impact occurred because calculating non-economic damages would be challenging.

However, if any physical impact occurs, the plaintiff may be able to recover damages even if they suffered only emotional harm and no physical injury, but only as long as the plaintiff can prove that the emotional injury was the direct result of the impact.

The Exception to the Impact Rule

In its 1985 decision (Champion v. Gray, 478 So. 2d 17), the Florida Supreme Court created an exception to the impact rule. The court ruled that a plaintiff can seek compensation for emotional harm even if those injuries are not stemming from a physical impact.

Plaintiffs can recover for emotional distress if they can prove that, due to the defendant’s negligence, they:

  • Suffered a physical injury;
  • The physical injury was the result of psychological trauma;
  • That trauma was caused by witnessing injury to another person; and
  • That other person is someone they had a close personal relationship with.

Thus, you can seek compensation for your emotional injury, even if it was not caused by any physical impact. However, you will have to prove some form of physical manifestation of your psychological or emotional trauma stemming from witnessing injury to your family member, friend, or romantic partner.

Consult with our Lakeland personal injury lawyers at The Turnbull Firm to determine if you can qualify for recovery despite Florida’s impact rule. Call at 863-324-3500 to get a case evaluation.