Peter Catania | June 19, 2021 | Medical Malpractice
If you suffered emotional distress because of a doctor’s negligence or malpractice, you could receive compensation for your emotional suffering. However, Florida is one of only a few states that require injury victims to suffer physical injuries before they seek damages for emotional distress.
Therefore, one of the best ways to protect your right to seek compensation for emotional distress caused by a doctor is to talk with a medical malpractice lawyer.
Emotional Distress and Medical Malpractice Claims
Emotional distress falls under the category of non-economic damages. These damages include the physical pain and suffering you experience because of an injury. Additionally, it includes permanent disabilities and impairments caused by the party’s actions.
Non-economic damages also include the emotional distress and mental anguish caused by an injury or accident, including:
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Decreased quality of life
- Suicidal thoughts
- Anger and frustration
You cannot quantify emotional distress with a bill or invoice like you can with economic damages. Each person suffers differently. Therefore, calculating the value of emotional damages requires analyzing all factors and circumstances of a medical malpractice claim.
How Does Emotional Distress Impact a Person?
Medical malpractice is a traumatic event. A patient may experience debilitating psychological injuries over and beyond their physical injuries. As with a physical injury, depression, PTSD, and other disorders can prevent a person from working, enjoying life, or performing regular daily activities.
Florida personal injury laws recognize emotional distress as a legally compensable damage. Therefore, victims of car accidents, dog bites, boating accidents, slip and fall accidents, medical malpractice, and other injury cases can receive compensation for their emotional distress.
However, proving that you suffered emotional distress because of your doctor can be difficult.
Emotional distress is subjective. Patients report their symptoms, but there may not be other evidence that a person is suffering from emotional distress. In addition, not everyone develops clinical depression, PTSD, or another diagnosable psychological condition.
Therefore, the “impact rule” assists courts in determining when a person should receive compensation for emotional distress.
How Does the Impact Rule Apply in Medical Malpractice Cases?
According to the impact rule, a patient needs to be physically impacted by the doctor’s conduct to recover compensation for emotional distress. Physically impacted generally means that the patient sustained physical injuries or harm because of medical negligence or malpractice.
For example, a doctor might have operated on the wrong body part or prescribed the incorrect medication and caused physical harm to a patient. In that case, the patient would be able to sue for emotional distress (and other damages) in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
If a person sustained physical harm, it is presumed the person also experienced emotional distress due to the injury. Therefore, the courts tie emotional distress (subjective damages) to quantifiable damages (physical injury).
Suing a doctor for emotional damages alone is a difficult fight. However, some exceptions to the impact rule allow people to sue for emotional distress, even though there is no quantifiable evidence of physical harm.
Exceptions to the Impact Rule in Personal Injury Cases
There are several situations in which the impact rule would not apply in a personal injury case, including:
- Consuming contaminated foods
- The disclosure of an HIV test result in violation of Florida Statute §381.004
- Negligent stillbirths and wrongful birth injuries
- Breach of a psychotherapist’s patient confidentiality
- Victims of intentional torts, such as intentional infliction of emotional distress, claims of defamation, and invasion of privacy
- Witnessing a family member’s violent death or catastrophic injury
Not all of the exceptions to the impact rule would apply in a medical malpractice claim. However, it is clear that parents may sue for emotional distress caused by birth injuries. Likewise, an HIV patient could sue for emotional distress caused by the illegal disclosure of test results. These individuals do not have to sustain a physical injury because of the doctor’s conduct to recover damages for emotional distress.
Filing a Medical Malpractice Claim in Florida
Doctors and other medical providers make mistakes; sometimes, they are negligent. Patients can experience significant pain, emotional distress, and financial losses because of medical malpractice. In some cases, the consequences are permanent or result in wrongful death.
If you believe your doctor caused you emotional distress, it can be helpful to talk to a medical malpractice lawyer. An attorney reviews the factors that led to the harm or injury. He explains your legal rights and guides you in the steps to take to hold the doctor liable for your injuries and damages.