We often think of accidents in terms of the visible injuries they cause. However, sometimes a person’s behavior results in more than just physical trauma. If the actions of another person are so extreme that they leave you with emotional scars, you may have legal options available to you.
The type of claim you can pursue depends on whether the person that injured you acted intentionally or negligently. Negligent infliction of emotional distress may occur in connection with an accident.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Unfortunately, sometimes people act in ways that are completely outside the bounds of what is acceptable in a civilized society. To be considered grounds for a lawsuit based on intentional infliction of emotional distress, the behavior must be outrageous and extreme. You must show that the behavior goes “beyond all possible bounds of decency” and shocks the conscience.
When looking at a person’s actions, it must be clear that he or she either intended to cause you mental suffering or showed a level of reckless indifference. Further, the actions must have actually caused you emotional distress and that distress must have been severe.
Note that intentional infliction of emotional distress is very difficult to prove. For that reason, it is not a claim that is particularly common. To give you a sense of the extreme nature of these cases, one successful claim involved a news channel airing footage of the remains of a deceased child. The story was later viewed by the family, who suffered severe emotional distress.
The Impact Rule and Negligence
By contrast, suing for negligent infliction of emotional distress in Florida requires that physical contact occurred. This is referred to as the “impact rule” and means that the person that caused your mental anguish must have come into contact with you in some way. This means that you can’t demand compensation for suffering because you witnessed a car accident.
To be clear, the contact can be ever so slight. Ultimately, it’s much more important in these situations that the person acted negligently and caused you distress.
Although it might seem confusing, there is a good reason behind this rule. Because mental anguish is a very difficult condition to prove, it is also susceptible to being faked. States also want to avoid encouraging people to bring lawsuits every time someone gets their feelings hurt. Therefore, requiring some form of physical contact may reduce the number of frivolous claims filed.
Exceptions to the Impact Rule
Now, the impact rule does not apply in certain situations. One situation is if you witness someone with whom you have a close personal relationship get seriously hurt or killed. Although proving contact is not necessary, you still need to show that this event caused you mental anguish or emotional trauma.
Other examples of exceptions include cases involving defamation or an invasion of your privacy. For example, let’s say you confided in your psychologist – who has a duty to keep things confidential – that you were HIV positive. If they breached confidentiality and negligently disseminated that information, you could seek compensation for emotional distress, even though they never physically touched you.
Finally, no physical contact is required in cases involving wrongful birth. An example would be a doctor that fails to make the mother aware of an issue with the baby, such as a genetic deformity, and the baby is then born deformed.
Evidence of Emotional Distress
It is important to note that meeting the above requirements is only the beginning. In both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress claims, you must be able to prove that you suffered mental anguish.
To prove your claim you will need to offer evidence. This generally requires more than just your statement regarding how someone made you feel. Again, courts want to make sure that your claim is valid and will want to see concrete and tangible evidence.
Generally, this evidence is in the form of documents and witnesses. It would most likely include the testimony of a qualified medical expert, such as a therapist or other mental health professional. You might also offer copies of medical records and a list of any prescriptions you take to help to alleviate symptoms.
How much you can sue for emotional distress depends on several factors. This is because every lawsuit is unique. The specific facts and circumstances of the defendant’s behavior and the nature of your injury will need to be taken into consideration. For that reason, it is always best to reach out to a qualified personal injury attorney who can advise you on how best to proceed with your claim.