What Constitutes Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

When a person suffers an injury in an accident, it is easy to see the toll it takes. However, some injuries are not visible. Mental and emotional distress may be a consequence of an accident, but what about when it is the injury? In some situations, a person may develop emotional affliction as a direct result of another’s intentional act. Emotional distress is just as dangerous as a physical injury since it can cause severe internal damage. Dive deeper into what it takes to file and prove an intentional emotional distress claim.

What Is the Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?

An accident that causes physical injury may also have a negative toll on a person’s emotional state. Damages for pain and suffering include emotional distress. When one person behaves in such a way that it causes another to experience severe emotional and mental suffering, the victim may pursue a personal injury claim for the intentional infliction of the distress. There does not need to be a physical injury in this type of lawsuit. If anything physical manifests, such as an illness, it must be the result of the emotional trauma.

Examples of Intentional Emotional Distress

There are several ways a defendant in a personal injury case of this type may cause emotional distress in the plaintiff.


Harassment involves repeated and sometimes systematic unwelcome biased and increasingly hostile overtures. The harassment may take place verbally, or it may be expressed in an email, text message or social media post. The guilty party continues the campaign, threatening physical or social harm. The actions must be egregious and result in the victim experiencing a strong emotional reaction. For example, debt collectors who repeatedly tell the victim that they will contact an employer or loved ones if the bill is not paid. The response by the victim may include extreme stress at the thought of losing a job or friends.

Abuse of Power

When someone in a position of power shames another into submission, it may qualify for compensation under extreme emotional distress. The victim and the person in authority must have an established relationship. A boss, police officer or medical professional may wield their power over another. When a boss threatens to ruin an employee’s standing in the company or community, it may cause stress. There does not have to be anything at stake for the person in power, but for the victim there always is. A police officer who pressures someone into confessing to save a family member from suffering is using his or her position and inflicting emotional harm in the process.

Public Ridicule

Practical jokes may seem relatively harmless, except when they result in ridicule. When one person purposely sets out to embarrass another to the point of shame or public rebuke, it may qualify as intentional emotional distress. For instance, when someone tells another that a loved one has suffered a serious injury to record and broadcast the victim’s reaction, the resulting emotional consequences the victim feels may be severe. Shame and ridicule are two actions that cause undue harm and affliction.

Personal Injury and Intentional Emotional Distress

Physical injuries are painful, but emotional distress is just as debilitating. Stress and emotional pain take a serious toll on the victim and may lead to things such as:

  • Inability to work
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Physical illness
  • Suicide

While there may not be a physical injury, the mental pain and anguish suffered at the hands of another is just as debilitating and, in some cases, deadly. Thus, a personal injury lawsuit against the perpetrator is warranted. When it comes to proving a personal injury case where the emotional distress was willful and negligent, these four elements must exist:

  • The defendant behaved in a way considered reckless or careless
  • The defendant’s actions were egregious and willful with the intent to elicit an emotional response from the plaintiff 
  • The defendant’s campaign directly caused the plaintiff great emotional distress
  • A foreseeable conclusion of the acts committed by the defendant was the plaintiff’s emotional distress.

Proving the Defendant Caused Emotional Distress

In a court action, it’s not enough to allege the defendant caused the injury; there must be evidence. While it may be more difficult in an intentional emotional distress action, it is not impossible. The plaintiff’s attorney may present the following when proving the defendant’s actions rise to the level of negligence.


Witness testimony in personal injury cases can be tricky, especially if the witness has a relationship with the plaintiff. When it comes to proving the defendant intentionally inflicted emotional damage, people present become integral to the case. Someone close to the defendant, for instance, someone who knew of any preexisting hostilities or prejudices against the plaintiff, may prove beneficial in establishing the mindset of the defendant. Third parties who witnessed the result of the defendant’s campaign, as in the case of a public act, may also provide video evidence of the act and the plaintiff’s immediate emotional reaction to it.


Oftentimes expert witnesses are utilized in litigation. Third parties hired by the defense or plaintiff, they examine evidence and use their professional expertise to formulate an opinion. In an intentional emotional distress case, experts may include psychologists who determine that the actions perpetrated by the defendant were outrageous and negligent enough to conclusively lead to the plaintiff’s emotional distress.

Medical evidence

Any treatment received is admissible, although emotional distress is not a physical injury. The plaintiff’s medical records, prescription history and any counseling session notes can be submitted to the court to help prove the negative impact the defendant’s actions had on the plaintiff. The treatment history may also influence the judge’s decision as to the amount of damages awarded.

Work With an Experienced Local Lawyer

A personal injury case of any type should never be left to chance. If you have suffered considerable emotional distress because of another person’s intentional behavior, you should seek out the assistance of a personal injury attorney who possesses the appropriate expertise. Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced lawyer in your area!

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