When someone else's purposeful action causes you harm, you might have a viable personal injury case. These kinds of claims are based on the theory of intentional tort. Injuries resulting from physical acts like assault and battery can form the basis of an intentional tort claim, but emotionally-harmful actions can too. That's where a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) comes in.
One definition of intentional infliction of emotional distress might look something like this: "Liability for IIED can arise when one person's extreme and outrageous conduct intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to another." In other words, if a defendant intentionally does something truly awful to a plaintiff, the plaintiff can sue for IIED and recover compensation (damages) simply based on his or her emotional distress. If the severe emotional distress also makes the plaintiff ill or causes some other physical problem, the plaintiff can recover damages for that harm as well. Read on to learn more about IIED.
(For cases where emotional injury was caused by carelessness or "by accident", a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress claims (NIED) might be appropriate.)
First, it's important to note that so-called "emotional distress" damages are usually available when a claimant suffers physical injury as a result of an accident or intentional conduct. In those cases, accompanying emotional distress is usually called "pain and suffering." The defendant's conduct does not necessarily need to be “extreme and outrageous” in cases where the plaintiff suffered physical injury. (Learn more about how the nature and extent of injuries affects claim value.)
However, if the plaintiff is suing for IIED unconnected to another tort, he or she must usually prove that the defendant engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct. Often, only conduct that goes beyond all possible bounds of decency can make a defendant liable for IIED. Whether the defendant’s conduct meets this threshold is a question for the judge or jury. Here are some examples:
The extreme and outrageous conduct may take place in the course of a relationship in which the defendant holds authority or other power over the plaintiff, or over the plaintiff’s interests. If the authority—such as a police officer, school official, landlord, or collecting creditor—abuses their position in some extreme manner, they may be liable to the plaintiff for IIED. It's important to note that insults and other rude (but not extreme) conduct will not create liability. Here are some examples:
Learn more about intentional conduct and negligence in personal injury cases.