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.