Infliction of Emotional Distress

When the actions of one person cause emotional or mental trauma to another, the victim may be able to recover damages for the mental stress. The stress can be caused by intentional, reckless or negligence conduct; however, in cases of negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED), the threshold of injury is higher than in cases of intentional/reckless infliction of emotional distress (IIED).

What are the elements of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?

IIED occurs when a person, through extreme or outrageous behavior intentionally (or recklessly) causes severe emotional distress, mental trauma and/or bodily harm to another.

There need not be bodily harm to establish this tort. A plaintiff may recover damages for both the emotional harm, as well as physical harm that results from the conduct. IIED is a very difficult tort to establish.

Examples of IIED:

Person A works for Person B. Person B sexually harasses Person A on a regular basis, telling Person A what he wants to do with her in bed and how he will tell everyone in the office about it. Person A suffers severe emotional distress, which includes a fear of being sexually assaulted, fear of losing her job for not giving into his advances, as well as severe weight loss and an ulcer. Person A may be able to recover for IIED.

A&B had a son who was kidnapped several years before. One day, Person C appears and tells A&B that he knows what happened to their son, but won’t reveal what he knows. It turns out he had no knowledge of the whereabouts of or what happened to the child. As a result of his actions, A&B both suffer severe emotional trauma; A even miscarries a pregnancy because of the stress.

What are the elements of Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress?

NIED occurs when a person’s negligence behavior causes mental distress. Most often, in cases of NIED, there must be physical harm in addition to mental harm for a plaintiff to recover. There are exceptions to this rule, however.

Example of NIED: Doctor A has checked the HIV status of Patient B. Patient B is actually HIV negative, but when Doctor A grabs the results, he negligently takes the results of Patient C and reports to Patient B that he is HIV Positive. It takes 6 months for Doctor A to notice his error. During that time, Patient B has suffered from severe depression, tried to commit suicide once, and began taking highly toxic HIV medications that made him very ill. Patient B can recover for NIED (and possibly for medical malpractice, as well).

I am the victim of IIED or NIED:

  • Seek medical/psychological attention
  • Document your claim
  • Your time to sue is limited; contact an experienced personal injury lawyer

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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