Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress in Automobile Accident Cases under Florida Law

A car accident victim typically has many ways to recover for injuries sustained in the accident. Typically a person will file a claim under the theory of negligence, but, depending on the circumstances of the case, an individual may pursue a negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) claim as well.

In Seybold v. Clapis, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida explained NIED in the context of car accidents. The plaintiffs in the case were a husband and wife, John and Mandy Seybold, who were with their children at a Disney resort at the time of the accident. John Seybold was checking out of the hotel while Mandy Seybold accompanied her children to their vehicle. The children were seated inside the car while Mandy Seybold stood behind the vehicle. At this time, Mandy Seybold was hit by defendant Victor Clapis’ car, which ended up pinning Ms. Seybold between the two vehicles. Mandy Seybold began to scream. Clapis, however, put his car in park, leaving Mandy Seybold stuck between the two cars. Ultimately, a bystander moved the Seybold’s vehicle to free Mandy Seybold. No Disney employees came to the aid of Ms. Seybold.

The Seybolds sued Clapis as well as the Disney resort under the theory of NIED on behalf of John Seybold and their two children. Disney filed a motion to dismiss the claim arguing the Seybolds did not have a viable NIED claim.

The type of NIED claim an individual can pursue depends on whether the plaintiff suffered a physical injury. Here, the plaintiff did not suffer a physical impact. Under Florida law, to succeed on an NIED claim where the plaintiff has not suffered a physical injury, a plaintiff must prove the following elements:

  1. The emotional distress manifested through the physical injury;
  2. The plaintiff was involved in the accident either by seeing, hearing, or becoming present as the traumatizing incident occurred; and
  3. The plaintiff suffered severe emotional mental distress and physical manifestation of the distress within a short time of the accident.

Disney’s motion to dismiss stated that the Seybolds could not prove that the emotional distress stemmed from a physical impact and, since the emotional distress did not amount to a physical injury, there was no valid NIED case.

The District Court dismissed John Seybold’s claim for NIED but allowed the children’s claims to remain. The Court reasoned that John Seybold failed to meet the second element because he was inside the hotel checking out at the time of the accident and therefore did not experience the physical impact of the accident. The children, however, were seated inside the car at the time of the accident and felt the second car hit theirs. They also saw, heard, and were present to see their mother wedged between the two vehicles. Since the children were “shaken” due to the incident, they had sufficiently met all the elements for a valid NIED claim.

If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident, and your loved ones were in the vehicle or witnessed it from a close distance, you may also have an NIED claim. NIED is a very specific cause of action and it is extremely fact-intensive. Robert Dixon is an experienced South Florida injury lawyer who can help assess the facts of your case to determine if you have a viable lawsuit. Call us today at our toll-free number at 1-877-499-HURT (4878) or contact us through our online form to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

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