Can I Seek Compensation for Emotional Distress Caused by a Doctor?
Gregg Hollander | May 4, 2021 | Medical Malpractice
When a doctor causes harm or injury to a patient, the patient may experience physical pain and suffering. The patient may also incur financial losses because of medical malpractice, such as medical bills and lost wages. In some cases, a patient could sustain a permanent impairment or disability because of a doctor’s negligence or wrongdoing.
Medical malpractice often results in emotional distress. You could be entitled to compensation for emotional distress caused by a doctor under Florida’s medical malpractice laws.
What is Emotional Distress?
Emotional distress may occur when another party causes you harm or injury. It falls under the category of non-economic damages. Non-economic damages are often referred to as “pain and suffering” damages. They compensate for the emotional suffering an injury causes, whereas economic damages make up for financial losses.
Emotional distress may include:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Suicidal thoughts
Emotional injuries can be just as debilitating as physical injuries. Psychological conditions and disorders caused by a traumatic event can result in loss of income, medical bills, and decreases in your quality of life.
Individuals suffering from emotional distress may even have trouble performing daily activities. Or, they might be unable to socialize or care for family members. In severe cases, individuals suffering from emotional distress could require treatment at a mental health facility.
How Do You Diagnose Emotional Distress?
Emotional distress can be difficult to prove because the symptoms are often subjective. There is not a medical test that can prove someone is suffering from anxiety or depression.
Everyone experiences a traumatic event differently, including medical malpractice. You may experience severe emotional distress, while another person may experience very little emotional distress. In medical malpractice cases, courts have been hesitant to award compensation for emotional damages without a physical injury.
Florida Uses the Impact Rule in Personal Injury Cases
In medical malpractice cases, Florida courts use the impact rule to determine whether to award damages for emotional distress. This means medical malpractice must result in physical harm for a patient to seek compensation for emotional distress.
The impact rule assumes that physical harm causes emotional distress. Therefore, when a patient sustains physical harm because of a medical error, the patient will also experience emotional distress. In other words, the intangible harm (emotional distress) needs to be linked to tangible harm (physical injury).
If you cannot prove that a medical error caused physical injuries or harm, seeking compensation for emotional damages will be difficult.
Are There Exceptions to the Impact Rule in Medical Malpractice Cases?
Yes, the courts have identified situations in which a patient could recover compensation for emotional distress without an underlying physical injury.
Exceptions to the impact rule in personal injury claims include:
- Breaches of confidentiality by psychotherapists
- Disclosing the results of an HIV test in violation of Florida Statute §381.004
- Consumption of contaminated foods
- Witnessing the violent death or the severe injury of a family member
- Victims of intentional torts, such as intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation claims, and invasion of privacy claims
- Negligent stillbirth and wrongful birth injuries
Even though the above exceptions exist, recovering compensation for emotional distress could still be challenging. A medical malpractice lawyer can review your case to determine whether you may be eligible for emotional distress damages.
Do I Have a Medical Malpractice Claim?
Medical errors and medical negligence can lead to significant injuries and damages. A doctor, nurse, medical facility, or other health care provider could be financially responsible for your damages.
Damages in a medical malpractice case can include:
- Loss of income, including future lost wages and decreases in earning potential
- Personal care and medical treatment
- Mental, physical, and emotional pain and suffering
- Disfigurement, permanent impairments, scarring, and disabilities
- Decreases in your quality of life or loss of enjoyment of life
Before you can recover compensation for damages caused by medical malpractice, you must prove the doctor is guilty of malpractice. Bad outcomes do not always indicate malpractice. Likewise, medical errors and mistakes do not always rise to the level of malpractice.
You must prove that your medical provider:
- Was negligent or made an error or mistake
- You sustained harm or injuries as a direct and proximate cause of the doctor’s actions or omissions, and
- You sustained damages
If you were not harmed or did not sustain damages, the doctor may not be guilty of malpractice. The best way to determine if you have a claim is to talk with a medical malpractice lawyer. However, you should act quickly because Florida’s statute of limitations limits your time to file a claim.