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Recovering For Mental and Emotional Injuries Often Requires Physical Impact


When people are involved in an accident, they often suffer not just physical pain, limitation, or incapacity, but mental trauma as well. In some cases, the mental symptoms, such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, anger, frustration or exhaustion, may be as bad or worse than physical pain. Can an accident victim recover for mental or emotional trauma or anguish?

Difficulties in Proving Mental Injury

Mental and emotional symptoms can’t be seen on an exam, an x-ray or on a diagnostic test. That’s why the law (and jurors in trial as well) can be very suspect when it comes to these kinds of injuries.

As a general rule, so long sufficient medical evidence of suffering a physical injury exists, an accident victim can additionally recover for almost any kind of mental anguish or symptom.

Victims do not have to have suffered a head or brain injury, either. If you are in a car accident, and injure your back, but have continuing and ongoing nightmares about the event and even fear driving a car again, these are compensable injuries.

The Impact Rule

The legal problem arises for those who suffer only mental or emotional injuries that don’t stem from, or accompany, any type of physical injury. The law has long accepted that mental trauma can naturally flow from a physical injury but the law is not so willing to accept that mental or emotional injuries by themselves are “legitimate.”

This is why Florida, along with many other states, have adopted what is known as the Impact Rule. As the name implies, victims must have some physical impact to recover for emotional trauma. That doesn’t mean physical injury is needed; just impact. So, if a car gently brushes your hip and you suffer no physical injury, that technically is sufficient physical impact to allow you to recover for emotional and mental injuries.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are some limited exceptions to this impact rule. For example, someone who witnesses a relative sustain an injury may be able to recover for emotional trauma. However, the victim (the person making the claim for emotional injury) must be of a close enough relationship to the person who was physically injured.

The law once said that victims must have observed the injury to a loved one, not heard about it or arrived on the scene after the fact. However, that requirement has been relaxed, and victims can now recover even if they do not actually perceive the injury, but only the “immediate aftermath” of it.

The impact rule does not apply at all in cases of defamation, privacy invasions, or allegations that malpractice caused a negligent birth—that is, birth defects that will occur because of malpractice.

You may be entitled to recovery for emotional or mental injuries after an accident. Contact the consumer and injury attorneys at Jacobs Legal in Miami today to answer your questions and help you investigate your case.


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