Court Considers Whether Traumatic Boat Accident is Sufficient to Recover Emotional Damages Under Georgia’s Impact Rule

In a recent case before a Georgia appeals court, the court considered whether children’s exposure to a traumatic boating accident was sufficient to recover emotional damages.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a family rented a boat while they were vacationing at Lake Burton in Rabun County, Georgia. They took the boat out on the lake, and when the uncle made a turn, the boat hit its own wake and water spilled into the bow of the boat, where the children were seated. One of the children, who was seven years old, either jumped from the boat or was washed from the boat. The uncle put the boat in reverse, and after he stopped the engine, realized that the seven-year-old was missing, and found him entangled in the propeller. The child died as a result of his injuries. The boy’s parents, as well as the children in the boat, filed a claim against the boat manufacturer and others for negligence.

The court considered the plaintiffs’ claims as claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The boat manufacturer moved to dismiss the claims, and after its motion was denied, appealed to the Georgia court of appeals. The issue before the court of appeals was whether water swamping a boat may constitute a sufficient physical impact under Georgia’s impact rule.

Georgia’s Impact Rule

In Georgia, for claims for emotional damages, the 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.”

The Court’s Decision

In this case, the issue was whether contact with water was a sufficient physical impact. The court explained that there are numerous ways in which a physical impact can occur. For example, courts found that smoke resulting in stinging, watery eyes, was sufficient for physical impact. The court determined that the boat’s contact with water could satisfy the element of physical impact, the first part of the rule. In addition, the court found that each of the minor plaintiffs suffered some injury. One child scraped his stomach, another bruised her shin, and another began vomiting and hyperventilating after the crash. Thus, the injuries could have been the result of the water swamping the boat, satisfying the second part of the rule.

Finally, the court determined that a jury could find that the minor plaintiffs suffered emotional distress from the physical injuries they sustained. However, the court noted that the minor plaintiffs could not recover emotional damages for being exposed solely to an “overall traumatic scene,” as they contended, because the emotional distress cannot be separate from the physical injury. The psychological damages must be related to the sustained physical injury itself. In sum, although the court found the minor plaintiffs could not recover solely for being exposed to a traumatic event, the court held the minor plaintiffs’ claims could go forward to trial because they could satisfy the impact rule as a result of their injuries.

Contact an Atlanta Personal Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one has been injured in a Georgia accident, you may be entitled to compensation. Injuries can have devastating and long-lasting effects, and those responsible should be held accountable. The dedicated Georgia personal injury lawyers at the McAleer Law Firm handle claims arising from serious or catastrophic injuries sustained in a wide range of accidents. We have compassionately and skillfully assisted our clients for over ten years, and we can help you explore your options while advocating vigorously on your behalf. Call McAleer Law at 404-622-5337 or contact us through our online form.

See More Posts:

Georgia Court Permits Plaintiff’s Slip-and-Fall Case to Proceed against Maintenance Company, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, December 18, 2018.

Georgia Car Accidents Involving Inexperienced Drivers, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, January 14, 2019.