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Court of Appeals Guts Impact Rule in Georgia

In Oliver v. McDade, A14A0147(Georgia Court of Appeals, July 16, 2014), the plaintiff was riding as a passenger in his own truck when another vehicle struck his vehicle and killed his friend. Defendant filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the claims for emotional distress arising from witnessing the injuries to his friend. The trial court denied the motion, and defendant appealed.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of summary judgment. The majority of the Court denied the motion because it found a question existed as to whether the claim for emotional distress was based on his own injuries or on witnessing the death of his friend.

However, the majority opinion specifically held that a plaintiff, under the pecuniary loss rule, can recover damages for emotional distress flowing from the defendant's negligence, even in the absence of physical injury, if the plaintiff has suffered a pecuniary loss and suffered an injury to the person.

The dissent stated that the majority opinion "eviscerates the impact rule, permits litigants to routinely obtain damages for emotional distress without physical injury, and by doing so, impermissibly supplies a remedy where none existed before."

If this decision stands, it will greatly expand the ability of plaintiffs to recover for pain and suffering from witnessing the injury of a family member or close friend. For example, if a family member witnessed the injury or death of another family member, who was a patient, the family member could file a claim for emotional distress.

The defendant is currently seeking to appeal the case to the Georgia Supreme Court. I will let you know what happens.

Richard G. Tisinger, Jr.

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