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Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. Wow, That's a mouthful.

In today's blog post, I discuss the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress. What is it ? How do you know if you might have a claim for this ?

If you have suffered emotional distress as a result of someone's extreme and outrageous conduct, you may be able to succeed on a claim for intentional infliction of emotion distress. If you file a claim and you end up in front of a jury a Court is going instruct that jury to look at whether a person intentionally or recklessly conducted him or herself in a manner towards another person in a manner so shocking and outrageous that their behavior exceeds all reasonable bounds of decency. If so, that offender is liable to the person who suffers extreme emotional distress.

Intent involves the state of mind with which an act is done. If a person acts voluntarily with a desire to bring about a result, he or she is said to have intended the result. Further, although he or she has no desire to bring about the result, if he or she does the act knowing, with substantial certainty, that the result will follow, he or she is also said to have intended that result. An act is reckless when it is done in such a manner and under such circumstances as to show utter disregard of the consequences that may follow. Emotional distress is considered severe when it is of such intensity and duration that no reasonable person should be expected to endure it.

If a jury finds, first, that defendant's conduct toward plaintiff was so outrageous and shocking that it exceeds all reasonable bounds of decency as measured by what the average member of the community would tolerate and, second, that defendant's conduct caused severe emotional distress to plaintiff and, third, that defendant acted (1) with desire to cause such distress, or (2) under circumstances known to defendant which made it substantially certain that that result would follow, or (3) recklessly and with utter disregard of the consequences that might follow, a jury is directed to find for the plaintiff on this issue. If, on the other hand, the jury finds that defendant's conduct was not so outrageous and shocking as to exceed all reasonable bounds of decency as measured by what the average member of the community would tolerate or that defendant's conduct did not cause such distress or that defendant's conduct, although outrageous and shocking, was not done with the desire to cause such distress, was not under circumstances known to defendant that was substantially certain to the result would follow, or was done recklessly and with utter disregard of the consequences that might follow, then a jury is instructed to find for the defendant.

So what are we talking about in real terms ? Examples of outrageous conduct that have been sustained by the courts are: (1) a university professor conducting a research project where he allegedly engaged in a campaign of harassment by falsely claiming meals served at several restaurants caused food poisoning to potential customers; (2) the defendants handled the cremated remains of plaintiff's deceased sister while making crude remarks about the sister on a radio show; (3) extended interrogations by security officers of a person who had a known underlying psychological condition; and (4) when a psychiatrist persuaded a patient to have a sexual relationship with him for therapeutic benefit and he made numerous harassing telephone calls to the patient after she terminated the relationship. The cases involving the Catholic Church come to mind for me when I am thinking about these issues and also employment situations, but there are separate claims in employment circumstances that could negate this type of claim. So these are just a few of the examples of the conduct that you can roll around in your head that the Courts have determined to be extreme and outrageous.

One thing you should keep in mind is that you cannot successfully plead a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress where the potential defendant may be held liable under another tort/negligence theory. The distress mus also be severe. It must be so severe that the injury must warrant the imposition of liability. General damages, like pain and suffering, special damages like lost earnings and punitive damages, to deter future conduct, are available in these circumstances. The statute of limitations on an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim is one year and it runs from the date the injury is suffered, not necessarily when the act or acts occurred. There are often situations that have a continuing course of conduct involved as well and the time begins to run from the end of the course of conduct.

So after reading all of this, what can you take from it ? If you have been subjected to a sever set of circumstances and you have had to seek out mental health counseling or treatment and your cases doesn't fit neatly into one of the standard negligence claims, this may be a way for you to receive a remedy. Long, drawn out courses of conduct that involve harassment are situations that come to mind when I am writing this blog as well as situations where someone has been the victim of a crime and has suffered extreme emotional distress. Unfortunately, the defendant for the victim of a crime is probably not going to have assets or insurance coverage from which you could collect.

With all of this being said, I sincerely hope that you do not become the victim and need to use this legal theory to seek a remedy. Unfortunately, I know that people will be victimized and others will need assistance getting back on track. So if you or someone you know has been the victim of circumstances that ring a bell for you when you are reading this, give us a call at 1.888.900.6204. We will be happy to discuss your case with you free of charge. Put us to work and we will be happy to fight for you.