Can I Recover Damages If I Only Suffered Emotional Trauma In A Car Accident?
A car accident is often a traumatizing event for those involved. This is especially true when the victims are children. Yet emotional trauma, in and of itself, is often not subject to compensation under Georgia’s personal injury laws.
Georgia courts have long followed what is known as the impact rule. The impact rule states that a plaintiff seeking damages for emotional distress must prove three things: (1) they suffered a “physical impact”; (2) that physical impact caused a “physical injury”; and (3) that physical injury caused the plaintiff to suffer “mental suffering or emotional distress.” Essentially, the impact rule requires some proof connecting an accident victim’s emotional suffering to a physical injury of some sort.
There are some exceptions to the impact rule. For example, if the defendant’s conduct was “malicious” or “willful,” as opposed to merely negligent, the plaintiff need not satisfy the impact rule to recover damages for emotional distress. And in cases where a parent and child are both physically injured in an accident, the parent may seek damages for emotional distress arising from having to watch their child “suffer and die.” A plaintiff may also seek damages arising from any pecuniary–financial–loss arising from emotional distress even if there was no physical injury.
Georgia Courts Dismiss Nine-Year-Old Twins’ Claim for Emotional Distress Damages
Even with these exceptions, however, Georgia courts remain fairly rigid in their application of the impact rule. Consider this recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Eley v. Fedee. In this case, the plaintiff was driving her car when she was struck by the defendant’s vehicle. At the time of the collision, the plaintiff’s twin nine-year-old daughters were passengers in her car.
The plaintiff, acting for herself and on behalf of her daughters, subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant. The defendant admitted fault for the accident. But the defense contested the plaintiff’s claim for “emotional distress” damages on behalf of her daughters.
During a deposition, the mother testified that neither child suffered “any physical injury as a result of the accident.” But she said they were still “traumatized by the collision.” Doctors diagnosed the twins with acute stress disorder and anxiety and prescribed medication. The defense argued this was still insufficient to justify any damages under Georgia’s impact rule.
The judge agreed and granted summary judgment to the defense on this issue. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision. Among other findings, the appellate court said the mother could not rely on the pecuniary-loss exception since any expenses incurred for the daughter’s psychological treatment were paid by the mother, not the children.
Contact an Alpharetta Personal Injury Attorney Today
Cases like this illustrate the importance of fully documenting any physical injuries sustained as the result of an accident caused by another party’s negligence. If you need legal advice or representation from a qualified Atlanta car accident lawyer, contact Shiver Hamilton Campbell today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our personal injury team.