Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

In general, one is liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress when they perform conduct that is so outrageous that it causes severe emotional trauma in the victim. In such cases, the victim can recover damages from the person causing the emotional distress. Not all offensive conduct qualifies as intentional infliction of emotional distress, however. People in society must necessarily deal with a certain level of rude or offensive conduct. When the conduct rises to a truly reprehensible level recovery for the resulting emotional trauma becomes available.

To be specific, in California intentional infliction of emotional distress exists when person or entity conducts

• Extreme or outrageous conduct
• That intentionally or recklessly causes
• Severe emotional distress (and also possible bodily harm)

If the situation satisfies all of the elements above, the person behaving in the extreme and outrageous manner may be liable for both the severe emotional distress and any resulting the bodily harms, such as a miscarriage, for example).

In addition, parties may sometimes recover for emotional distress under circumstances where the extreme and outrageous conduct wasn't even directed at them. Typically, this kind of claim involves extreme or outrageous conduct towards the claimant's family member while in the claimant's presence. In California, this type of claim exists when the actor performs:

• Extreme and outrageous conduct
• Directed at a third person that intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress
• To a member of the third person's immediate family (whether or not bodily harm occurs), or
• To any other person present if bodily harm occurs.

Extreme and Outrageous Conduct

Extreme and outrageous conduct goes beyond those acts that are merely malicious, harmful or offensive. Legally speaking, people must have a certain level of thick skin and possess the ability to weather ordinary rude or obnoxious behavior. In order to rise to the level of actionable extreme and outrageous conduct, the behavior must exceed all possible bounds of decency. Normal insults or rudeness don't normally qualify as extreme and outrageous conduct, although they can rise to that level if there is some kind of special relationship between the parties. In addition, ordinary insults or actions can constitute extreme and outrageous behavior if the actor knows that the victim is particularly susceptible to emotional distress because of some physical or mental condition or abnormality.

For example, if Adam knows that Barbara is intensely claustrophobic and intentionally locks her in a closet to scare her, she could possibly recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Exercising a legal right can never amount to intentional infliction of emotional distress however, even if the behavior does cause some severe emotional trauma. If a landlord properly initiates eviction proceedings against a sick and destitute widow who has not paid rent in a year, his actions won't constitute intentional infliction of emotional distress even if the widow does in fact suffer an extreme emotional reaction. Since the landlord was only exercising his legal rights, his behavior is most likely privileged. In the end, a judge or jury makes the final decision on whether the conduct in question rises to the level of extreme and outrageous.

Intent or Recklessness

In addition to acting in an extreme and outrageous manner, for a person to be liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress the actor must act with intent or recklessness. In other words, the actor must intend to cause severe emotional distress or act in reckless or deliberate disregard of the effect of his or her conduct, even though a reasonable person would believe that there is a high possibility that severe emotional distress will occur. For example, if someone receives a text message from their significant other while at a friend's house, becomes angry, and smashes the urn containing their friend's mother's ashes, the friend could possibly win an intentional infliction lawsuit under the theory of reckless disregard.


Severe Emotional Distress

Finally, in order for a person to be liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress the actor must intentionally or recklessness cause "severe" emotional distress. Emotional distress can take many forms. Many unpleasant emotions qualify as emotional distress, including embarrassment, shame, fright and grief. In order to satisfy the elements of an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, however, the emotional distress that occurs in response to intentional or reckless extreme and outrageous behavior must reach a "severe" level. The exact definition of "severe emotional distress" is vague, and plaintiffs must prove to a judge or jury that the emotional distress they experienced reached a sufficient level of severity to justify an award for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Some guidelines do exist to help determine whether an emotional disturbance constitutes severe emotional distress. When extreme and outrageous conduct causes suffering of a type that no reasonable person should have to endure, a judge or jury will likely hold that the experience reached the level of severe emotional distress.

The intensity and duration of the emotional distress also contribute to its severity. The longer the emotional disturbance continues, the more likely it is to constitute severe emotional distress.

A plaintiff must use evidence to demonstrate their emotional distress to a jury. For example, a plaintiff can use persistent anxiety and paranoia resulting from a Halloween prank gone bad to show that they suffered extreme emotional distress as a result of the conduct. Sometimes the very nature of the conduct in question will suffice to demonstrate that the victim suffered severe emotional distress. If behavior is particularly disturbing, the plaintiff may not have to offer much evidence to support their claims; the behavior itself is so reprehensible that the emotional distress is almost assumed.

Bodily harm also acts as an indicator that severe emotional distress has occurred. Ulcers or headaches, for example, can show that the plaintiff has experienced severe emotional distress that has revealed itself through these physical symptoms.




You May Be Eligible to Receive Damages

You may be able to recover economic and non-economic damages. Generally speaking, economic damages are those to replace money you have lost through expenditures or lost earnings. Examples of these damages include, but are not limited to, loss of earnings and future earning potential. In addition, if there is an injury, economic damages include medical expenses to be repaid to your healthcare insurance company, Medicare, Medi-Cal or any other medical treatment or care provider engaged on your behalf. Economic damages also include those for expenses for treatment you are expected to need in the future, along with out-of-pocket payments for medical devices, prescriptions, transportation, household assistance, and any other such expenses you have had or may experience in the future. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. Non-economic damages are serious losses that are more difficult to assign a dollar value, including pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, and loss of quality of life.


If I Am the Victim of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, What Do I Do Next?

If you are the victim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, contact the Lee Law Group and we will assist you throughout your entire ordeal. It is important to contact us, or some other attorney, as soon as possible because if you eventually have to file a lawsuit you must file it within a specified period of time by law. This period of time, known as the ‘statute of limitations’, could bar your case if you do not act in time. 

Once you contact the Lee Law Group, we will first investigate the incident to determine if it is worth your time and effort to bring a lawsuit and if the perpetrator has any valid, potential defenses. Moreover, we will evaluate the damages they caused and the monetary value of these damages. If you are injured, we will work closely with your medical care providers or use one of the skilled specialists we associate with to ensure you obtain the best possible care.

Once we have a firm idea of the costs of your damages we will write a settlement demand letter to the person or company responsible for your intentional infliction of emotional distress. At this point insurance companies may get involved even though this is considered an “intentional act” because often negligent or reckless decisions cause a perpetrator to act to cause intentional infliction of emotional distress. Negotiations with the offending person, company or insurance company are required at this point. The Lee Law Group will conduct these negotiations until we have a settlement agreement that you can accept because final approval of any potential settlement rests with you, not the attorneys. Many cases are settled in this way. However, if the offending person or company refuses to offer a settlement that you can accept, we will file a lawsuit to obtain your compensation.

What Happens If I File a Lawsuit for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?

If the Lee Law Group is forced to file a lawsuit for intentional infliction of emotional distress to obtain your just compensation we will litigate your case from start to finish, explaining the process to you every step of the way. We will instruct you on what to do and when to do it, making the process as simple as possible. A great majority of cases are settled after filing a lawsuit without having to actually conduct a trial. However, if a trial is necessary we at the Lee Law Group are experienced in trial work and will energetically try your case.


If you are the victim of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, contact the Lee Law Group so we can fight for you.


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