Published on:

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

worryIt is commonly understood that when a person or organization causes a physical injury to another, through negligence, that the injured party may recover for his or her injuries.  The injured party must show that the Defendant owed a duty to him or her and that by breaching this duty, the injured party was caused to sustain damages.  In a traditional case, the damages aspect of negligence can be shown through medical records, bills, photographs, or other tangible, documentary evidence.  However, when the complained of harm is intangible such as emotional harm or injury- there is a different cause of action that an aggrieved party can utilize to be compensated- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.

The court has articulated a four prong test in order for a person to successfully recover under the theory of intentional infliction of emotional distress.  In Agis v. Howard Johnson Co., the court held that a plaintiff must show:

  1. that the defendant intended to inflict emotional distress or that he knew, or should have known, that emotional distress was the likely result of his conduct;

  2. that the defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous, beyond all possible bounds of decency, and was utterly intolerable in a civilized community;

  3. that the actions of the defendant were the cause of the plaintiff’s distress;  and

  4. that the emotional distress sustained by the plaintiff was severe and of a nature that no reasonable man could be expected to endure it.

Prior to the Agis decision, it was unclear whether a person could recover for emotional distress without an accompanying physical reflection of pain or injury.  However, the Agis case made it distinctly clear that the lack of a physical manifestation of injury would not preclude an individual from recovering under intentional infliction of emotional distress.  In the case, the Plaintiff was employed by the Ground Round, which was owned and operated by the Howard Johnson Company.  Due to the loss of funds and the suspicion of foul play by the waitstaff at the Ground Round, the manager held a meeting with all of the waitstaff.  At this meeting the manager informed the staff that the identity of the person(s) responsible for the thievery was not known and that until that person owned up to the crime, or was discovered, the manager would be firing all the present waitresses in alphabetical order.  The Plaintiff, who had a last name beginning with “A” was the first on the list, and she was promptly terminated.

The Plaintiff alleged severe emotional distress, mental anguish, and loss of wages as a result of the conduct by the Defendant organization.  The Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint alleging that the Plaintiff’s factual claims did not result to a recognizable cause of action due to the absence of a resulting physical injury.  The trial court agreed.  On appeal, the court reversed and held that, “we believe that the plaintiff has alleged facts and circumstances which reasonably could lead the trier of fact to conclude that defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous, having a severe and traumatic effect upon plaintiff’s emotional tranquility.”

If you or a family member have been injured our office may be able to help. Whether the complained of activity resulted in physical injury or severe emotional distress, our office would be happy to speak with you.  To schedule a free consultation with lawyer Daniel Cappetta, call our office today at (508) 969-9505 or fill out or contact form available on the right side of this page