Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress Law & Legal Definition


Intentional infliction of emotional distress or mental distress is a tort claim for intentional conduct that results in mental reaction such as anguish, grief, or fright to another person’s actions that entails recoverable damages. Some jurisdictions refer to IIED as the tort of outrage. Seeing a child die in an automobile accident from a distance or receiving a letter from someone falsely claiming that a close family member had died are all examples of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The elements of a prima facie case for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress are:

  • Outrageous conduct by the defendant;
  • The defendant's intention of causing or reckless disregard of the probability of causing emotional distress;
  • The plaintiff's suffering severe or extreme emotional distress; and
  • Actual and proximate causation of the emotional distress by the defendant's outrageous conduct. (Alcorn v. Anbro Engineering, Inc (1970) 2 Cal.3d 493, 497-498.

Emotional distress means mental distress, mental suffering or mental anguish. It includes all highly unpleasant mental reactions, such as fright, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, mortification, shock, humiliation and indignity, as well as physical pain. Severe emotional distress is emotional distress of such substantial quantity or enduring quality that no reasonable person in a civilized society should be expected to endure it. In determining the severity of emotional distress consideration is given to its intensity and duration also.

One of the major hurdles in a intentional infliction of emotional distress lawsuit is proving that the defendant’s conduct was extreme or outrageous. Generally, it should 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 defendant's conduct must be more than malicious and intentional; and liability does not extend to mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, or petty oppressions. Viehweg v. Vic Tanny Intern. of Missouri, Inc., 732 S.W.2d 212, 213 (Mo.App.1987).

Following is an example of a case law defining intentional infliction of emotional distress:

The term “intentional infliction of emotional distress” can be defined as:

conduct. . . truly extreme and outrageous. Second, the actor must either intend that his conduct inflict severe emotional distress, or know that there is at least a high probability that his conduct will cause severe emotional distress. Third, the conduct must in fact cause severe emotional distress. . . Doe v. White, 627 F. Supp. 2d 905, 912 (C.D. Ill. 2009)