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What is Georgia’s Impact Rule?

Posted in Personal Injury on June 17, 2020

If you or somebody you love has sustained an emotional or psychological injury that was caused by the negligence of another person, company, or entity in Georgia, then you may have heard of the “impact rule.” This means that, in order to recover compensation for purely emotional damages caused by the actions of another person, the plaintiff is required to prove that the incident “impacted” them in some way. Understanding how the impact rule applies in Georgia can be incredibly confusing.

GA impact rule

Does “impact” mean a literal impact on a person’s body?

We can highlight two separate cases to show how the impact rule applies in a Georgia personal injury claim. The first case will be Oliver v. McDade, 328 Ga. App. 368 (2014).

In this case, McDade was a passenger riding in his own truck that was being driven by his close friend on I-26. After noticing there was a problem with the trailer they were hauling, the friend pulled over to the shoulder of the road and exited the vehicle. At that moment, a tractor-trailer swerved onto the shoulder of the road, struck the trailer, and killed McDade’s friend. The impact of the collision threw McDade against the interior of his truck and propelled skin tissue and blood from the friend’s body onto McDade.

McDade suffered neck, back, and knee injuries, as well as flashbacks, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. As a result of the collision, McDade sought psychiatric help and was diagnosed as suffering from major depression. McDade filed a negligence claim against the operator of the tractor-trailer, the driver, and the insurer. He testified that his emotional injuries stemmed both from witnessing the death of his friend as well as from his own physical injuries. In this case, it was held that McDade could indeed recover emotional distress damages under the pecuniary loss rule. The Court of Appeals stated that this rule allows for recovery of emotional distress damages when there is evidence of identifiable non-physical injuries and a pecuniary loss (such as medical treatment arising from McDade’s depression).

When we look at the case Coon v. The Medical Center, Inc. (2015), we can see a different outcome. In this case, a mother was grieving from the loss of her stillborn baby. However, the hospital returned her the remains of the wrong child. This subsequently led to the mother having to bury what she thought was her child once, and then having another burial for her actual child. This would clearly be a stressful situation for any parent, and the mother filed a lawsuit claiming that she suffered from the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. However, in this case, the Court of Appeals found that the mother could not prove a physical injury or pecuniary loss, and could therefore not recover any compensation for her emotional distress damages.

What does this mean for the impact rule?

Highlighting both of those cases is a way to show that, in order to recover compensation for negligent infliction of emotional distress, a person must be able to prove at least one of the following elements:

  • That there was a physical injury or “impact” to the body, or
  • That the “impact” was a monetary loss resulting from emotional distress

This can all be incredibly confusing for those who are going through an injury or who have been negligently exposed to a psychologically or emotionally damaging situation. Speak with a skilled Atlanta personal injury attorney about your claim in order to fully understand what type of compensation you may be entitled to.

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