Georgia’s “Impact Rule” Explained

Key Points:

  • Georgia law is very restrictive and generally does not allow a person to claim emotional distress for witnessing a traumatic event.
  • Georgia’s “Impact Rule” allows a bystander to recover for emotional distress of watching another person become injured, but only if the bystander also experienced a physical impact.
  • The Georgia Supreme Court allows a parent to recover for the emotional trauma of watching a child die – when the parent was injured in the same accident.

There Needs to Be Real Injuries – Not Viewing an Injury or Death – A General Rule

Are you able to distinguish between emotional suffering and physical pain? In what way can we possibly separate the horror of watching your child die in a terrible accident from the further horror of being also injured and unable to comforting that same dying child? Even in our advanced state of gentility, the State of Georgia still wrestles with this particular problem.

Other states have been compensating people for emotional distress inflicted upon bystanders for decades. Those who witness the consequences of negligence – the drunk driver who hits a pedestrian so hard the victim flies through the air and lands at the feet of another passer-by should be made to pay for that additional injury. In places like California, they are. Meanwhile, here in Georgia, we see even the State Supreme Court at odds over the matter.  The general Rule in Georgia is that in most cases you cannot recover damages for emotional trauma for witnessing another person being hurt or killed.

What is The Georgia Impact Rule

Georgia’s physical “impact rule” generally requires a physical impact and injury before a claim for emotional distress based upon observed injury to another can proceed.

Lee v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 272 Ga. 583 (2000)

In This Case: Followed by the case number.

How the Georgia Impact Rule Impacted a Wrongful Death Case

In Lee v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 272 Ga. 583 (2000), a mother and her daughter were both severely injured in an automobile collision involving an unknown hit-and-run driver. The mother severely injured herself, watched as her daughter suffered and ultimately died after a full hour of agony. The mother attempted to recover for both her physical injuries and the emotional distress of witnessing her daughters suffering and wrongful death.

The trial court granted the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment citing the ‘impact rule.’ The Georgia Court of Appeals concurred with the trial court saying that the mother could certainly recover for her physical damages, but could not recover for her emotional distress.

This case ended up before Georgia’s Supreme Court Justices the majority of whom wisely opined that in this particular case it is impossible to separate the physical pain from the emotional suffering. The high court remanded this case back to the lower courts saying, “It will be for the finder of fact to determine whether the parent suffered emotional distress from witnessing the child’s suffering and death apart from the grief which would naturally arise from a parent’s loss of a child.”

We are pleased to see that in this Case the mother, at least, was adjudged to be allowed to have her emotional distress to be heard in court.  However, had the mother not also been injured herself, it is doubtful the Supreme Court would have allowed her to make the emotional distress claim relating to her daughter’s wrongful death.

Ask the Experts

T Bone CollisionIf you’ve been injured by the negligent behavior of others, allow the legal team at The Millar Law Firm the opportunity to review the facts in your case.  We have offices located at 1201 Peachtree Street, Atlanta, Georgia 30309 and 151 N. Main Street, Jonesboro, GA 30236.  Our legal practice is focused on helping persons injured in Atlanta area car, truck and motorcycle accidents.  Our lawyers specialize in Georgia car accident cases.

We will, free of charge, look at the circumstances around your injury and offer our opinion as to how you should proceed. Get the help and good advice of a personal injury specialist. Call us today and find out why we’re among the best of Atlanta’s car accident personal injury lawyers.

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