222
MICHAEL J. LABBEE
II. The Impact Rule’s Long and Winding Road
For over a century Florida courts have wrestled with the concept of award-
ing damages for purely emotional harm caused by another’s negligence
.
11
Should this kind of injury be compensable? How should its value be mea-
sured? And where do we draw the line between harm for which society be-
lieves a victim should be compensated, and harm that our citizenry should
shoulder individually? These are the overarching policy questions that have
driven the evolution of Florida’s NIED jurisprudence.
In 1893, in
International Ocean Telegraph Co. v. Saunders
, the Florida
Supreme Court first recognized the “impact rule,” and laid the foundation
for all future NIED cases
.
12
The defendant in
International
failed to timely
deliver a message informing the plaintiff that his wife was dying. This
delay “prevented [the plaintiff] from telegraphing . . . his wishes, and . . .
prevented [him] from attending his dying wife.
13
Although the plaintiff’s
case did otherwise meet the traditional requirements of a tort action in
negligence, the damages suffered (other than the nominal cost of a timely
message delivery) were exclusively emotional. Based on the nature of the
suffered harm, the Court did not allow the plaintiff to recover because:
The resultant injury is one that soars so exclusively within the
realms of spirit land that it is beyond the reach of the courts
to deal with, or to compensate by any of the known standards
of value. It presents a class of cases where legislative action
11 See generally Julie H. Littky-Rubin,
So I Finally Understand the “Impact Rule” — But
Why Does It Still Exist?
.
12
.
13
Id
. at 437.
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