Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress in California
California law views emotional harm with the same significance level as physical harm. Therefore, if someone victimizes you by deliberately acting in a manner that causes you severe emotional distress, you may be eligible to recover damages by filing an intentional tort lawsuit claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).
In California, intentional infliction of emotional distress is a legal claim that can occur when somebody's outrageous conduct causes you to suffer emotional distress. It must be done intentionally or with a reckless disregard for its effect.
If you succeed in your lawsuit, you can recover compensatory and punitive damages. However, emotional distress must be severe to be recoverable under California's intentional infliction law.
Severe emotional distress means that the distress is so substantial or long-lasting that a reasonable person should not be expected to bear it. Under the law, emotional distress can include anguish, anxiety, shock, humiliation, shame, suffering, grief, and other related symptoms.
Outrageous conduct is much more than just bad manners or hurting your feelings. It must be conduct that is so outrageous that any reasonable person would consider it indecent.
Proving IIED is not always easy, and your best bet of recovering damages is with the help of an experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorney. Let's review this topic in more detail below.
Intentional Tort Explained
While most people think of personal injury cases in the context of acts of negligence, intentional tort refers to a civil wrong committed on purpose (not out of negligence) that results in either physical or emotional harm to the victim. To win an intentional tort case, you must demonstrate that:
- The person intentionally committed the harmful act;
- The person had reasonable knowledge of possible negative consequences of their actions; and
- You suffered harm as a result.
What Is Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?
IIED is a type of intentional tort that occurs when one person commits outrageous actions for the intended purpose of causing another person to experience severe emotional distress.
The emotional distress caused by the outrageous behavior may manifest in physical symptoms such as insomnia, headaches, and stomach problems, or it may result in mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and extreme fear.
Severe emotional distress may include feelings of suffering, anguish, shock, grief, fright, humiliation, anxiety/worry, and more.
Most notably, you don't have to experience any physical injury to sue for IIED or prove conclusively that the defendant intended to harm you. Instead, you only need to show that the actions were intentional and that you suffered as a result.
How Can You Prove IIED?
There are different elements your California attorney must prove in an intentional tort lawsuit to recover damages for IIED:
- The defendant's conduct was “outrageous.” The outrageous actions must be considered outside the bounds of decency;
- The defendant was willful and intentional in their behavior. They either intended to cause you emotional distress or acted with reckless disregard for your well-being;
- You suffered severe emotional distress due to the defendant's conduct. In other words, your emotional distress must be more than just an annoyance or hurt feelings—it must be severe distress, meaning it must be profound or long-lasting to the point that no reasonable person should be expected to endure it;
The different factors that are considered to determine whether the defendant's conduct was outrageous include the following:
- Whether the defendant abused their position of authority or a relationship giving them the power to impact your interest;
- Whether they were aware that you were especially vulnerable to emotional distress;
- Whether they knew their conduct would most likely result in some emotional harm.
As noted, you are not required to prove physical injury to recover damages for severe emotional distress. Damages are usually covered in cases where you have high medical bills, lost wages, lost earning capacity, or other compensatory damages.
You are allowed to recover punitive damages in cases of recklessness and intentional wrongdoing. Since intentional infliction cases require outrageous conduct, they are more likely to result in an award for punitive damages.
IIED in the Context of Other Offenses
Intentional infliction of emotional distress can be filed as a lawsuit on its own. Still, IIED lawsuits are often filed in addition to other offenses (both criminal and civil) that may have caused other types of damage. Common instances where it might be appropriate to file an additional IIED suit include:
- Cases of sexual abuse or assault;
- Assault and battery;
- Excessive use of force;
- Retaliation for whistleblowing;
- DUI that results in severe injury or death;
What Are the Recoverable Damages for IIED?
California law allows victims of IIED to recover compensatory and punitive damages as considered appropriate.
These are damages intended to “compensate” you financially for your losses due to the infliction of emotional distress. Examples of compensatory damages include:
- Medical bills/cost of recovery. If your emotional distress resulted in the need for medical treatment or mental health treatment, for example, these costs might be included in your claim.
- Lost wages and lost earning capacity. If your emotional distress rendered you unable to work (either from the distress itself or from treatment), you can recover this lost income in your settlement.
- Pain and suffering and emotional distress. Your attorney may calculate a dollar value equivalent to the severity of your suffering and loss of enjoyment due to the emotional distress.
Punitive damages may be awarded in addition to compensatory damages to punish the at-fault party.
Punitive damages might be appropriate if the defendant's actions were found to be particularly egregious and willful. Since intentional infliction of emotional distress is intentional, IIED cases have a relatively high rate of punitive damage awards.
While California law entitles you to recover damages for IIED, it's not always easy to prove that a defendant intentionally caused your distress, especially without extenuating evidence such as doctor bills or lost wages.
A good Los Angeles personal injury attorney may utilize various strategies such as presenting psychological evaluations, calling witnesses, including expert witnesses, and providing other forms of documentation to prove that the defendant's willful actions victimized you.
You can contact our law firm for a free case consultation by phone or using the contact form. We work on a contingency basis. Injury Justice Law Firm is located in Los Angeles, California.