Emotional distress and mental anguish are common damages claimed in a personal injury case. These types of damages can be just as debilitating as physical injuries. In some cases, a victim of medical malpractice might receive compensation for emotional distress caused by a doctor.
However, the issue of emotional distress caused by a doctor can be challenging. Florida is just one of the handful of states that uses the “impact rule” for emotional distress cases. Consulting a medical malpractice attorney is one of the best ways to protect your legal rights when seeking compensation for emotional distress caused by a physician.
What is Emotional Distress?
Emotional distress is a non-economic damage. Non-economic damages compensate victims for the emotional, mental, and physical pain and suffering they experience because of another party’s wrongdoing or negligence. Contrast these with economic damages, which compensate injured parties for their financial losses after an accident, including medical expenses, lost wages, and reduced earning capacity.
Examples of emotional distress include:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Suicidal thoughts
The psychological injury caused by a traumatic incident can cause disabling conditions, including psychological disorders. A person may be unable to perform activities of daily living or work because of emotional distress.
Florida laws recognize emotional distress as a compensable damage. However, proving emotional distress is difficult. Stress and anguish are subjective, meaning that not everyone reacts in the same way to a traumatic event.
One person may experience very little emotional distress. Another person may develop symptoms of PTSD or clinical depression after experiencing a similar situation. Because emotional distress is based on a person’s reported symptoms, the courts have been reluctant to award compensation for emotional distress without an accompanying physical injury.
What is the Impact Rule?
The impact rule requires a person to be “physically impacted” in order to claim damages for emotional distress. For example, if a doctor’s malpractice results in physical harm, such as infection, you are more likely to receive compensation for emotional distress.
The underlying concept of the impact rule is that physical harm generally results in emotional distress. Because emotional distress is subjective and difficult to prove, it should be tied to a physical, tangible harm that can be proved through medical evidence.
So, if the doctor’s actions caused you physical harm, you can sue the doctor for emotional distress in your medical malpractice lawsuit. Suing a doctor for emotional distress without physical harm may be an uphill battle.
Exceptions to the Impact Rule in Florida
There are cases in which the Florida Supreme Court has made exceptions to the impact rule.
Examples of cases in which a plaintiff may sue for emotional distress without tangible physical harm include:
- Disclosing the result of an HIV test in violation of Florida Statute §381.004
- Victims of intentional torts, such as invasion of privacy, defamation claims, and intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Consumption of contaminated foods
- Breach of confidentiality by psychotherapists
- Some cases of people witnessing the severe injury or the violent death of a family member
- Wrongful birth injuries and negligent stillbirth
Therefore, a parent could sue a doctor for emotional distress because of birth injuries or stillbirth, even though the doctor did not cause the parent physical harm.
Filing Medical Malpractice Claims in Florida
Medical malpractice claims are challenging personal injury cases. All medical procedures have certain risks. Negative outcomes do not mean that the doctor committed malpractice or was negligent.
For a doctor to commit medical malpractice, the patient must sustain harm and suffer damages. Therefore, if a doctor makes a mistake that does not harm the patient, the doctor may not have committed malpractice.
It can be difficult to know if you have a medical malpractice claim. The best way to understand your rights is by discussing your situation with a medical malpractice lawyer.
What Should You Do if a Doctor Injures You or Causes Emotional Distress?
Your mental and physical health are your top priorities. Seek medical treatment from another provider who can diagnose and treat the injuries or harm you sustained.
Document your injuries by taking photographs. If you experience emotional or mental trauma, keeping detailed notes of your symptoms and your daily struggles can be helpful in a medical malpractice case.
Contact a lawyer as soon as possible. Most medical malpractice cases in Florida have a two-year deadline for filing claims. If you do not file your claim within that time, you could lose your right to pursue an action against the doctor in court. There could be exceptions to this rule, so always seek legal advice as soon as possible.