Witnessing Horrible Injuries, Is there a Claim in Georgia?


Georgia’s impact rule has been around for over 100 years and basically holds that you cannot sue for witnessing a horrific injury unless you were also physically injured in the incident. The rule is formally stated thusly; the current Georgia impact rule has three elements: (1) a physical impact to the plaintiff; (2) the physical impact causes physical injury to the plaintiff; and (3) the physical injury to the plaintiff causes the plaintiff’s mental suffering or emotional distress.” Lee v. State Farm

In the Lee v. State Farm case, the Supreme Court recognized that the impact rule is silly when it comes to a parent hurt in a crash with their child who watches the child die. They should be able to recover for that horrible suffering. The encroachment was incremental but important. It had to be a death and it had to be a child and parent relationship. Friends or spouses had no where to go if they wanted to recover.

Then another exception arose, the “pecuniary loss” exception. It said that if the plaintiff lost some property in the event that there was a loophole and a jury could consider emotional distress from the incident. Our firm used this to recover for a mother who witnessed her young daughter being run over and killed. We argued that the parent owned the clothing and that satisfied the rule.

The Georgia Supreme Court issued a recent decision in 2015 that has further modified the rule. They have allowed a plaintiff who witnessed the gruesome death of a friend and who also sustained a physical injury to make a recovery for the emotional distress caused by the injuries and witnessing the bloody death. Although the Supreme Court vacated the logic of the Court of Appeals decision in Division 2, that logic is sound. The only oddity is the property or economic loss prong would now seem to be satisfied where the loss is income or mental treatment bills.

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