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A claim exists for damages flowing from a significant discernible physical injury when such injury is caused by psychic trauma resulting from negligent injury imposed on another who, because of his relationship to the injured party and his involvement in the event causing that injury, is foreseeably injured.
A drunken driver ran his car off the road, striking and killing Karen Champion. Karen’s mother, Joyce Champion, came immediately to the accident scene, saw her daughter's body, and was so overcome with shock and grief that she collapsed and died on the spot. Petitioner Walton Champion, as personal representative of his wife's estate, then brought the present action for damages caused by the driver's negligence which led to Joyce Champion’s death. Relying on Gilliam v. Stewart, 291 So.2d 593 (Fla. 1974), and Claycomb v. Eichles, 399 So.2d 1050 (Fla. 2d DCA 1981), the trial court dismissed the complaint. The appeals court affirmed the dismissal, following the long-standing Florida rule that a plaintiff must suffer a physical impact before recovering for emotional distress caused by the negligence of another. Petitioner appealed.
Could recovery be allowed for the physical consequences resulting from mental or emotional stress caused by the defendant’s negligence, notwithstanding the absence of physical impact upon the plaintiff?
The court overruled the impact rule. Direct physical contact was no longer required to recover for psychological trauma resulting from a negligent injury imposed upon a close family member within the sensory perception of the physically injured person. Rather, a claim existed for damages flowing from a significant discernible physical injury when such injury was caused by psychic trauma resulting from negligent injury imposed on another who was foreseeably injured.