What is Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?

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  • Written By: Charity Delich
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 February 2020
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Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), is a type of tort law action that can be filed in civil lawsuits. In general, it is brought against a person who deliberately acts in a manner that is designed to — and that does in fact cause — another person severe emotional anguish. An example of IIED is a doctor telling a patient’s wife that the patient died, even though the patient is perfectly healthy, simply for the purpose of causing the wife distress. It is one of the most difficult tort claims to prove, and some jurisdictions have historically viewed it as a frivolous cause of action.

Demonstrating that emotional distress hase been intentionally inflicted generally requires a plaintiff to prove several elements. First, he must show that the defendant acted in an extreme and outrageous manner. In proving this element, the plaintiff typically needs to convince the fact finder that the defendant’s behavior was so extreme that it would be deemed unbearable in a civilized society. In general, behavior is extreme and outrageous if a person of average temperament would experience severe emotional distress as a result of the defendant’s actions. Plaintiffs who are high-strung or more sensitive are customarily held to a different — and usually lower — standard.


In order to prove intentional infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff also usually needs to demonstrate that the defendant intended to cause the plaintiff severe emotional anguish. Alternatively, the plaintiff may show that the defendant acted with reckless disregard. Basically, this means that the defendant was substantially certain that his or her actions would cause the plaintiff severe emotional distress.

Next, a plaintiff typically needs to demonstrate that he or she actually suffered emotional distress. What constitutes emotional stress varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but a plaintiff generally needs to show that he or she developed a condition of a significant quantity or enduring quality — the type of condition that an ordinary person should not be expected to deal with. For example, conditions like anxiety, shock, humiliation, or physical pain may constitute emotional distress. As a general rule, simple insults or threats do not rise to the level of emotional distress.

A plaintiff must customarily prove causation as well. In other words, the plaintiff needs to show that he or she suffered damages as a direct result of the defendant’s extreme and outrageous conduct. In some jurisdictions, an additional element is required: publicity. These jurisdictions require the distressing event to occur in public.


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Post 2

This sounds like something that would be very hard to prove. I understand why some jurisdictions mandate that the incident must have occurred in public. You would have to have several witnesses in order to make something like this seem valid.

Post 1

I told my friend that she could claim IIED because of workplace harassment. Her boss thought it would be a funny practical joke to tell her that she was fired and to let everyone else in on it. He even called them all into the conference room to watch.

I don't know what sick and twisted pleasure he hoped to gain from this, but she broke down in tears, and she said she even felt chest pains. When he started laughing and told her that he was just kidding, she ran out of the room, embarrassed and angry.

I really think that she could win a case against him for this cruelty. She says that she can't afford a lawyer, though.

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