Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Generally, the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress comprises certain forms of conduct which is so dreadful that can cause severe emotional trauma in the victim. In this case, the victim can recover the damages from the individual that causes the emotional distress.

Not every offensive conduct can qualify as intentional infliction of emotional distress, but people in the society should deal with some degree of offensive conduct. When the conduct goes to the reprehensible degree, although, the recovery for the resulting emotional trauma is available.

Elements of Intentional Infliction

Particular rules for intentional infliction vary from one state to another state; here are some elements that must be present when claiming for recovery:

  • Extreme or offensive conduct that
  • Intentionally or carelessness causes
  • Serious emotional distress, and potential bodily harm

When situation meets all of the elements mentioned above, the individual acting in extreme and offensive way is responsible for both intense emotional distress and the bodily harm that results from stressful circumstances like miscarriage as an example.

Additionally, concerned parties may recover for emotional distress under situations where intense and offensive acts are not directed at them. Basically, this kind of claim entails intense or offensive conduct to the family member of the claimant in the presence of the claimant. This claim differs between the states compared to the basic intentional infliction tort, however, the following are certain general elements of the injury:

  • Intense and offensive conduct
  • Directed at the third person that
  • Purposely or carelessly causes
  • Serious emotional distress
  • To a member of the third person’s immediate family, whether bodily harm happens, or
  • To any individual present if the bodily harm happens

Extreme and Offensive Conduct

One of the most significant issues in intentional infliction of emotional distress claims is determining what precisely comprises the extreme and offensive acts. Without extreme and offensive act, the injured party cannot file a claim for intentional infliction although the defendant behaved with malice and/or dangerous intent.

Extreme and offensive conduct does not only spell malicious, detrimental, or offensive act. People should have some degree of having the ability to go beyond the ordinary rudeness and being offensive. To reach an extreme degree of being offensive and outrageous, the act must go beyond what is ordinary decency. Ordinary insults or rudeness do not qualify as an extreme and outrageous act, although they can go beyond the degree of uniqueness of the relationship between the parties.

Ordinary insults or acts can comprise extreme and offensive behavior when the defendant is aware that the victim is inclined to emotional distress due to some physical or mental condition or abnormality. For instance, if Julie knows that Jane is extremely claustrophobic and purposely locks her in a closet to frighten her, she can file claims to recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The application of a legal right cannot tantamount to the intentional infliction of emotional distress, although the behavior causes some extreme trauma to the person. If the landlord started an eviction procedure against a sick and impoverished individual who was unable to pay the rent for one year, the act of the landlord will not comprise intentional infliction of emotional distress although the sick person is undergoing a distressful condition. The landlord here is applying his legal rights and his act is a privileged one.

Finally, the jury makes the final decision if the act or conduct in issue goes to the degree of being extreme and outrageous.


Aside from being an extreme and outrageous act, the defendant must also act with intent or carelessness. Therefore the defendant must purposely to cause the extreme emotional distress or is aware that this extreme emotional distress will happen. The defendant may become responsible for the intentional infliction when they behave with purposeful disregard to the high probability that extreme emotional distress will happen.

As a sample, when somebody receives and reads a text message from his/her significant other while he/she is at the house of a friend, becomes mad and smashes the urn that contains the ashes of her friend’s father, the friend can file and win the intentional infliction case under the theory of careless disregard.

Severe Emotional Distress Due To Intentional Infliction Act

Emotional distress refers to many negative emotions like grief, embarrassment, shame, and fright. To meet the elements of intentional infliction claim, emotional distress must be in “severe” degree of response to the extreme and outrageous act. The precise meaning of severe emotional distress is unclear and the plaintiffs must prove to the jury that the emotional distress they are suffering reaches the severe degree to justify the award for intentional infliction.

There are certain tips to determine if the emotional disturbance comprises severe emotional distress. When the extreme and offensive act causes suffering that no reasonable individual can endure, the jury will tend to hold that the experience reaches the degree of severe emotional distress.

The degree and the duration of the emotional distress can add to its severity, which means that the longer the emotional disturbance is, the more likely it will contribute to a higher degree of emotional distress. The plaintiff, then, must provide evidence to prove his/her emotional distress to the jury. For instance, the plaintiff can use continuous paranoia and anxiety as a result of the Halloween prank that went bad to demonstrate that they are suffering from extreme emotional distress as a consequence of the conduct.

There are times that the nature of the conduct in issue will be sufficient to show that the victim experiences severe emotional distress. When the behavior is distinctly disturbing, the plaintiff does not have to present more pieces of evidence to support his/her claims, since the behavior in itself is at fault that the emotional distress is “almost assumed.”

Bodily harm also serves as a gauge that there is severe emotional distress being experienced. Headaches or ulcers, for instance, can demonstrate that the plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress which is shown through physical symptoms.

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