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New Development In Florida’s Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Law

Florida is one of many jurisdictions to apply the “impact rule” to claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress. The “impact rule” limits the recovery of damages for purely emotional injuries absent an accompanying physical injury. Under the application of the “impact rule” the compensable emotional distress a plaintiff suffers must flow from physical injuries the plaintiff suffered in an impact (i.e.- from something or someone actually touching the plaintiff). In certain situations, the manifestation of severe emotional distress through physical injuries or illness is sufficient to satisfy the “impact rule” too.

In a recent decision, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed a sizeable verdict for a Plaintiff that was victimized by a “peeping Tom” employed by Wackenhut security to monitor an affluent Miami neighborhood. The case, G4S Secure Solutions USA, Inc. v. Golzar, establishes that Florida’s “impact rule” precludes recovery for the torts of negligent hiring, negligent retention, and negligent supervision to a Plaintiff who suffers purely emotional damages caused by a negligently hired employee’s intentional conduct.

The facts of the case are both legally interesting and personally disturbing. In 2008 Wackenhut hired a security guard and failed to realize that he had been previously convicted in California of prowling and peeking into an inhabited building. The negligently hired employee was put to work as a guard at Old Cutler Bay community. While on duty one morning, the Wackenhut guard struck again, and used his phone to record a high school girl while she was undressing in the privacy of her bedroom. The guard later confessed his perverted act to the police. After a trial on the matter a jury in Miami Dade County awarded the victim $1,332,588.08.

Wackenhut appealed the decision, claiming that the “impact rule” precluded recovery for purely emotional injuries stemming from Wackenhut’s negligent hiring of a guard who had been convicted of peeking an prowling. Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal agreed with Wackenhut, and reversed the jury’s award. Notably, the decision does not explain why the generalized illness and physical problems, nightmares, and feelings of anxiety suffered by the victim’s were not sufficient to permit recovery under the “impact rule.” However, it is now clear that a Plaintiff in Florida cannot recover for purely emotional injuries for claims of negligent hiring, negligent retention, and negligent supervision. While this decision supports the longstanding legal principle that an employer is not liable for an employee’s intentional wrongdoing, it leaves many questions remaining about such situations where shocking conduct results in purely emotional injuries and physical manifestations of those injuries. This is especially so in our modern era where harm can be readily inflicted on innocent parties without an actual physical impact, as we now regularly see in cases of cyber bullying, revenge porn, hacking, identity theft, and invasion of privacy. Obviously, this is an area of the law that is likely to see more development and refinement as our understanding and treatment of psychological and emotional injuries continually advance along with technology. On a related note, thankfully, the Wackenhut employee who creepily spied on the high school girl was criminally convicted for his conduct, and it appears the victim is now doing quite well and excelling in life.

By: TDG

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