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What is the “Impact Rule”?

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Posted on May 10, 2024

The “Impact Rule” in Florida says that if you want to sue someone for causing you emotional distress, you need to have been physically hurt in some way because of their actions.

However, there are exceptions to the Impact Rule, such as cases involving ingestion of contaminated food, breaches of confidentiality by psychotherapists, and certain intentional torts like defamation or invasion of privacy.

In cases like those, a plaintiff can claim damages for emotional harm without showing that they were physically injured.

The Impact Rule was established by Florida Supreme Court rulings and hasn’t been formally codified in the Florida Statutes through legislation.

If you’re pursuing an emotional distress lawsuit, contact a lawyer to discuss how the Impact Rule may affect your case.

Exceptions to the Impact Rule

Florida’s Supreme Court has established some exceptions to the Impact Rule by allowing victims to claim damages for emotional distress in specific cases despite a lack of physical injury.

Here are some exceptions to the Impact Rule:

  • Intentional torts, including murder and assault
  • Witnessing a catastrophic or violent death or injury
  • A breach of patient confidentiality by a psychotherapist
  • Disclosing the result of a patient’s HIV test
  • Ingesting contaminated food or beverages
  • Asbestos exposure
  • Negligent care from a psychologist

Florida Supreme Court Rulings on the Impact Rule

The Impact Rule was established through precedents set by Florida Supreme Court rulings, not by legislation.

The rule originated from the Florida Supreme Court ruling in International Ocean Telegraph Company v. Saunders in 1893.

In the opinion, Florida’s supreme court justices decided that because the telegraph company’s negligence “results in no other damage than mental pain and suffering” only nominal damages could be recovered.

Other rulings have added clarifications and exceptions to the Impact Rule.

For example, in Willis v. Gami Golden Glades, LLC the Florida Supreme Court ruled that because the mugger touched the victim’s body to search for belongings, the victim was allowed to claim damages for the emotional trauma.

That ruling clarified that if there is any physical impact, no matter how slight, recovery for emotional injury is possible.

Additionally, in Zell v. Meek, the court held that if there is no physical impact, the emotional distress must be “manifested by physical injury,” and the plaintiff must be “involved” in the incident by seeing, hearing, or arriving on the scene as it occurs, with the distress occurring “within a short time” of the incident.


Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress – Florida Bar Journal

Why Does the Impact Rule Still Exist? – Florida Bar Journal

Zell v. Meek, 665 So.2d 1048 (Fla. 1995)

Willis v. Gami Golden Glades, LLC, 967 So.2d 846 (Fla. 2007)

International Ocean Telegraph Co. v. Saunders, 32 Fla. 434 (Fla. 1893)