As the National Transportation Safety Board investigates the December 26 northeast helicopter crash which killed all three passengers on board, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed on Friday by Christine Hines, a family member of one of the persons killed against the company. Hines is claiming that the pilot, E. Hoke Smith and SK Jets were negligent since the weather conditions on this night were so bad with poor visibility and Smith’s decision to take off. According to the Orlando Sentinel, on the night of December 26, the helicopter struck several trees and crashed to the ground. On board the helicopter were Dr. Luis Bonilla, Heart Surgeon, David Hines, Organ Procurement Technician, and Smith, the pilot. The three were flying from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville to pick up a heart for a transplant at a Gainesville hospital. Hines, who has hired a Florida personal injury attorney, is seeing more than $15,000 in damages from the Smith Estate and SK Jets, for mental pain and suffering of Hines, and her two siblings.
Under the Florida Wrongful Death Act, claims based upon emotional distress are recoverable damages for an eligible surviving relative. In Florida, an eligible surviving relative would be considered a spouse, children and parents. However, claims based upon emotional distress, mental pain, mental suffering or mental anguish was not recoverable under the common law system because at common law no civil action could be brought against a defendant who wrongfully caused the death of another person. Thus, under the common law system, if your parents were killed during a car accident as a result of another’s negligence, the defendant could be criminally punished, but you could not sue this person in civil court. But, the Fatal Accidents Act, commonly known as Lord Campbell’s Act, remedied this situation by allowing relatives of the person killed as a result of another’s wrongdoing to sue. Although wrongful death actions vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, most states have a statue that creates a cause of action for the benefit of eligible surviving relatives.
Yet, in Florida if you or a relative are attempting to sue an individual based upon negligent infliction of emotional distress, there are elements under the Impact Rule you must meet in order to prevail on your claim. Florida’s Impact Rule is a judicially created rule which originated in 1893 in the decision of International Ocean Telegraph Co. v. Saunders [14 So. 148 (1893)]. In short, the Supreme Court of Florida ruled that in order to recover damages based upon emotional distress; the plaintiff must have sustained a physical injury which caused his or her emotional distress during the impact.
Still, our Fort Lauderdale emotional distress attorneys are dedicated to helping those who have suffered emotional distress or mental anguish as a result of someone else wrongdoing. Whether or not the Impact Rule would be applicable to your situation will depend upon the unique facts because there are exceptions to this rule. For example, in the Zell v. Meek [665 So. 2d. 1048 (Fla. 1995)] the Supreme Court set forth the elements of a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim as follows:
1) The plaintiff must suffer a physical injury;
2) the plaintiff’s physical injury must be caused by the psychological trauma;
3) the plaintiff must be involved in some way in the event causing the negligent injury to another; and
4) the plaintiff must have a close personal relationship to the directly injured person.
Further, the Court in Willis v. Gami Golden Glades, LLC [ 967 So. 2d 846, 850 (Fla. 2007)] essentially the Court clarified the relevancy of an impact in claims involving emotional distress,
“If the plaintiff has suffered an impact, Florida courts permit recovery for emotional distress stemming from the incident during which the impact occurred, and not merely the impact itself. If, however, the plaintiff has not suffered an impact, the complained-of mental distress must be “manifested by physical injury,” the plaintiff must be “involved” in the incident by seeing, hearing, or arriving on the scene as the traumatizing event occurs, and the plaintiff must suffer the complained-of mental distress and accompanying physical impairment “within a short time” of the incident.
Also, the Impact Rule is not applicable to intentional torts such as defamation and invasion of privacy. It is always best to consult with a Fort Lauderdale mental anguish attorney for legal advice involving claims based upon emotional distress. These claims are very complex and you will need the advice of an attorney to determine whether or not legal remedies are available.
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