Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress Definition:

The malicious and outrageous causation of severe emotional distress.

Related Terms: Intentional Infliction of Nervous Shock

A cause of action in tort law which, if founded on the facts, leads to an award of damages.

 In Swerdlick, the Rhode island court held that there were four requirements for a successful claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress:

"(1) The conduct must be intentional or in reckless disregard of the probability of causing emotional distress, (2) the conduct must be extreme and outrageous, (3) there must be a causal connection between the wrongful conduct and the emotional distress, and (4) the emotional distress in question must be severe."

In Clift, the court adopted these words:

"The actor is never liable where he has done no more than to insist upon his legal rights in a permissible way, even though he is well aware that such insistence is certain to cause emotional distress."

In the American law textbook, Restatement (Second of Torts), the authors opine:

"It has not been enough that the defendant has acted with an intent which is tortious or even criminal, or that he has intended to inflict emotional distress, or even that his conduct has been characterized by malice, or a degree of aggravation which would entitle the plaintiff to punitive damages for another tort.

"Liability has been found only where the conduct has been 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.

"Generally, the case is one in which the recitation of the facts to an average member of the community would arouse his resentment against the actor, and lead him to exclaim, "Outrageous!""

This extract has often been cited with approval in US law reports on the topic.

In Norton, the Rhode island court added:

"Generally, courts consider whether the relationship created sufficient vulnerability to create a duty on the part of the defendant to avoid inflicting emotional distress."


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