Florida Emotional Distress Claim Faces an Uphill Battle

A construction worker who witnessed two co-workers falling off scaffolding to their deaths, while at work building a resort hotel near Walt Disney World in August 2018, has sued Marriott and the construction company responsible for building the hotel for emotional distress related to witnessing his co-workers’ deaths.  The worker is claiming that the sight of his co-workers plunging to their deaths caused him to suffer severe emotional distress.  However, this Florida emotional distress claim faces an uphill battle for the plaintiff given something known as the impact rule.  This can prevent the recovery of damages for solely emotional pain and suffering where there has been no actual physical injury to the plaintiff.

The Disturbing Incident

According to a report regarding the lawsuit from Construction Dive, the worker was performing concrete work in August 2018 at the JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort near Walt Disney World when the supports holding scaffolding on which he and two other workers were working collapsed while the workers were pouring concrete on the seventh floor of the resort hotel.  Two of the workers instantly fell 80 feet to the ground, with neither surviving the fall.  The surviving worker alleges in support of his lawsuit that he was able to step off the scaffolding in time just before it collapsed.  He is suing Marriott International, the hotel’s owner, and PCL Construction Services, the project’s general contractor, as well as the project’s developers and other contractors and subcontractors that were working on the affiliated project.

In March, the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), which is responsible for ensuring workplace safety, determined as part of an investigation into the workers’ deaths that the supports holding the scaffolding on which the workers were perched had completely collapsed.  OSHA determined that PCL and Universal Engineering, the project engineer, did not inspect the scaffolding or any of its parts to ensure that they matched up to the drawings prior to putting the scaffolding into use.  The general contractor also failed to ensure that the supports were able to withstand the weight they would bear when workers were standing on top of them. OSHA imposed fines against both PCL and Universal in connection with the accident.  However, the federal agency later withdrew the citations and fines against Universal a few weeks later.  The fines against general contractor PCL stayed in place and PCL is now contesting the three OSHA violations and the $144,532 in fines that were imposed against it by OSHA.

Rules Relating to Florida Emotional Distress Claim

In a personal injury lawsuit, a plaintiff typically cannot recover solely for emotional damages without any physical impact or injuries except in very limited circumstances.  This is known as the impact rule.  It requires that, in order to pursue a lawsuit for personal injuries, a victim suffer some physical impact, even if that impact is minimal, in order to recover for any type of mental distress. The rationale behind this rule for a Florida emotional distress claim is that a mental injury can be easy to fake, so requiring a physical impact limits an individual’s ability to make false claims about mental distress.

This means that, in the example above, the construction worker would need to have been impacted or have suffered a physical injury somehow in order to be able to maintain a claim against the hotel owner and general contractor resulting from his fellow workers’ deaths. This could have been something as simple as being struck by a piece of debris from the collapsed scaffolding, even if all it caused was a minor cut or abrasion  By suffering a small cut, the worker that has brought this lawsuit would have shown that he suffered a physical injury caused by physical contact of one kind or another to accompany his emotional injuries and he would then get around the impact rule.

One other way around the impact rule is if you witness a close family member being injured or killed.  Therefore, in the scenario above, if the worker that was able to jump off the scaffolding in time had witnessed his father and brother plunging to their deaths, then the impact rule would not serve to bar his claims.

Contact the Experienced Personal Injury Lawyers of Schwed, Adams & McGinley

The experienced personal injury attorneys of Schwed, Adams & McGinley have more than 150 years of combined practice representing victims of someone else’s negligence.  Injuries come in many different shapes and forms, and mental distress and anguish can be just as bad, if not worse, than physical injuries in many circumstances, especially a traumatic event like watching two of your co-workers plunge 80 feet to their deaths.  If you have been involved in a situation in which someone else’s negligence caused you to suffer injuries, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Schwed, Adams & McGinley, P.A at 877-694-6079 or contact@schwedlawfirm.com for a free consultation today.  No matter what your injuries or the circumstances in which you were injured, our experienced personal injury attorneys will be able to assist you by determining the best way to recover your damages.  We are not afraid to be creative and think outside the box in order to assist our clients in recovering maximum compensation for their injuries.