Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) is a legal claim that can be made when someone intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to another person. In New Jersey, IIED is recognized as a valid claim and can be used to hold individuals or entities accountable for their harmful actions.
Elements of IIED
To recover, plaintiff must establish the following elements:
First, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted intentionally or recklessly. For an intentional act to result in liability, the defendant must intend both to do the act and to produce emotional distress. For a reckless act to result in liability, a defendant must act in deliberate disregard of a high degree of probability that emotional distress will follow.
Second, the defendant’s conduct must be extreme and outrageous. The conduct must be so outrageous in character and so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community. The liability clearly does not extend to mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, petty oppressions or other trivialities.
Third, the defendant’s actions must have been the proximate cause of plaintiff’s emotional distress.
Fourth, the emotional distress suffered by plaintiff must be so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure such distress. Defendant’s conduct must be sufficiently severe to cause genuine and substantial emotional distress or mental harm to the average person. This average person must be one similarly situated to the plaintiff. The plaintiff cannot recover for his/her emotional distress if that emotional distress would not have been experienced by an average person.
Intent or Reckless
Intentional or reckless conduct can include actions such as physical assault, verbal abuse, stalking, or harassment. In addition, conduct that falls below the standard of care for professionals, such as doctors or therapists, can also be considered intentional or reckless for the purposes of an IIED claim.
A plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted intentionally or recklessly. For an intentional act to result in liability, the defendant must intend both to do the act and to produce emotional distress. Liability will also attach when the defendant acts recklessly in deliberate disregard of a high degree of probability that emotional distress will follow. Hume, supra, 178 N.J. Super. at 319; Restatement, supra, § 46 comment d; Minzer, supra, § 6.12 at 6-28 to 6-29.
Extreme and Outrageous
For conduct to be considered extreme and outrageous, it must go beyond what is considered socially acceptable behavior. It must be so egregious that it would cause an average person to be shocked, outraged, or disgusted. The conduct can also be considered extreme and outrageous if the defendant had a specific intent to cause emotional distress.
The conduct must be "so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community." Restatement, supra, § 46 comment d. See, Buckley v. Trenton Saving Fund Society, 111 N.J. 355 (1988)
Proximate Cause of Damages
The emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff must be severe, meaning that it must have a significant impact on their daily life. Some examples of severe emotional distress include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and physical symptoms such as headaches or nausea.
Finally, the emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff must be so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it. This means that the emotional distress must be more than just a minor inconvenience or discomfort.
It is important to note that a court will not find a defendant liable for IIED unless their actions were truly egregious. Acts of ordinary rudeness or negligence are generally not enough to support a claim for IIED. Similarly, insults, threats, and minor inconveniences are typically insufficient for a successful claim. Courts have also held that extreme conduct is necessary to establish liability in cases involving repeated incidents or multiple defendants.
The severity of the emotional distress raises questions of both law and fact. Thus, the court decides whether as a matter of law such emotional distress can be found, and the jury decides whether it has in fact been proved.Restatement, supra, § 46 comment j. When conduct is directed at a third party, proof of bodily harm is required, Restatement, supra, § 46 and comment k, but when the intentional conduct is directed at the plaintiff, he or she need not prove any physical injury, Hume, supra, 178 N.J. Super. at 319; Restatement, supra, § 46 and comment k. It suffices that the conduct produce emotional distress that is severe. Hume, supra, 178 N.J. Super. at 319; Portee v.Jaffee, supra, 84 N.J. at 101; Restatement, supra, § 46. Buckley v. Trenton Saving Fund Society, 111 N.J. 355, 367 (1988)
If a plaintiff can prove all of these elements, they may be entitled to damages, including compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Not Easy to Prove
It is important to note that IIED claims are not easy to prove, and plaintiffs should consult with an experienced attorney who can help them navigate the legal system. In addition, IIED claims have a two-year statute of limitations in New Jersey, meaning that a plaintiff must file their claim within two years of the conduct that caused the emotional distress.
Intentional infliction of emotional distress is a valid claim in New Jersey, and victims of extreme and outrageous behavior may be entitled to compensation for their suffering. If you believe that you have been the victim of IIED, it is important to seek the advice of an experienced attorney who can help you understand your legal options and fight for your rights.
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