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Is There A Claim For Outrage?

By Viviana Torres, Staff Writer

Emotional Distress

What is it?

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress or otherwise known as IIED, is a civil tort where an offender acts in an intentionally or recklessly manner that causes the victim to suffer severe emotional distress. In claiming IIED, there are 4 things that must be proven: (1) the offender or defendant acted intentionally or recklessly; (2) the offender/defendant’s conduct must be extreme and outrageous; (3) the offender/defendant’s actions must have been the proximate cause of the victim’s emotional distress; and (4) the emotional distress suffered by the victim must be so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.

Breaking Down the IIED Elements:

Starting with No. 1, the conduct must be intentional or reckless. This means that the individual must intend to cause severe emotional distress or know that severe emotional distress would likely result.

Concerning No. 2, the conduct must be outrageous. Outrageous conduct is conduct that goes beyond mere malicious, harmful, or offensive behavior. It must exceed “what is tolerated in a civilized society or reasonable bounds of decency.” But ordinary insults or actions can be considered outrageous if the offender knows or should know that the victim would be particularly susceptible to emotional distress because of a physical or mental health condition. For example, someone cooks a meal for another person who he or she knows is a devout vegetarian because they strongly believe it is ethically wrong to harm animals for consumption. But instead of using plant-based meat, the offender makes and serves a meal made with actual meat. This could be considered an IIED claim. In contrast, conduct that is merely insulting, annoying, or poorly mannered will not be considered extreme and outrageous. It can be a “fine line.”

Moreover, No. 3 requires that that the offender’s actions are the “proximate cause” of the victim’s emotional distress. “Proximate cause” means that the offender’s actions are sufficiently and directly related to the plaintiff’s emotional injuries.

Finally, No. 4 requires that the severe, emotional distress be a kind of distress that no reasonable person is expected to endure. The severe emotional distress can be self-proving (no doctor is needed as a witness), but it needs to be a type of severe and disabling emotional or mental condition which is generally “recognized by professionals” (which means that a doctor’s analysis is needed). But what is a “reasonable person?” It’s a standard used in the law that asks whether an ordinary person, in that same situation, would have reasonably acted in the same manner.

IIED Claims in Employment:

An IIED can apply in either employment or non-employment situations. In employment, an employee who suffers emotional damage from discrimination or harassment in their workplace may have an IIED claim. Accordingly, a judge or jury can reasonably conclude that the workplace’s “power dynamics” contributed to the extremity and outrageousness of an offender’s (supervisor or co-worker) conduct.  The employee would use the same points as the ones mentioned above. She or he can also bring the claim against their employer for actions of another employee because of what is called “ratification.” Through ratification, the employer must have knowledge of the conduct, knew it was harmful and failed to do anything about it.

Viviana Torres is a rising third-year law student at Seton Hall University School of Law, where she works as an interpreter for the Center for Social Justice. Viviana is also treasurer of LALSA at Seton Hall Law

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