Most people face indignities, insults, and rude treatment and mark it up to life. By and large, the law views it the same way. However, sometimes the indignities, insults, and abuses go so far beyond the bounds of decency, that the courts recognize a need for relief. In the past, psychological damage was often viewed as a failing of the person who suffered from the illness. Furthermore, emotional damage was considered too abstract and too personal to be dealt with by courts.
As the understanding of emotional distress has evolved, courts have become more receptive to lawsuits seeking damages for infliction of emotional distress.
Intentional Infliction Of Emotional Distress
In Illinois, the courts recognize two types of suits for emotional distress. The first type is intentional infliction of emotional distress. This, as the title denotes, is for cases in which a person intentionally causes another person to suffer emotional distress.
In law, elements refer to the events that have to be proven before a case is successful. The elements for an intentional infliction of emotional distress has been delineated by Illinois courts:
- The defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous;
- Intent or knowledge by the defendant that there is at least a high probability that his or her conduct would inflect severe emotional distress and reckless disregard of that probability;
- The plaintiff suffered severe or extreme emotional distress; and
- The defendant’s conduct proximately caused the plaintiff’s distress.
Extreme and Outrageous Conduct
A successful plaintiff has to prove that the defendant engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct. This is a relatively high bar. What constitutes extreme and outrageous conduct is a question for the jury. The extreme conduct does not have to rise to the level of murder; however, it must rise beyond the ordinary stresses of life. The conduct must be more than “mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, petty oppressions, or other trivialities.” Adams, 684 N.E.2d at 941, quoting Public Finance Corp. v. Davis, 66 Ill.2d 85, 89-90 (1976). Moreover, the jury is instructed to use a reasonable person standard in determining what constitutes outrageous behavior. Reasonable person means what the typical person can endure. If the plaintiff is particularly sensitive, that is not supposed to be taken into the jury’s consideration. For example, if the defendant told the plaintiff she was fat, that would be insulting and rude behavior. However, a reasonable person would not fine such an insult to rise to the level of extreme conduct.
Intent or Knowledge
The next element is intent or knowledge plus reckless disregard. It is not necessary to prove that the defendant intended to cause you severe emotional distress, the defendant need only have the knowledge that his or her conduct will cause you severe emotional distress and he or she recklessly disregarded the likely consequences.
Extreme Emotional Distress
The third element is the plaintiff did suffer extreme emotional distress. The emotional distress must be severe; it is more than “fright, horror, grief, shame, humiliation and worry.” Adams, 684 N.E.2d at 942. Rather, the “emotional distress required to support the cause of action must be so severe that not reasonable person could be expected to endure it.” Id., quoting Davis, 66 Ill.2d at 90.
The fourth element is that the defendant’s conduct actually and proximately caused the plaintiff’s harm. There is a foreseeability element in the doctrine of proximate causation. Thus, your severe emotional distress must proximately result from the defendant’s conduct.
Illinois emotional distress attorneys can advise you on each requirement of an intentional infliction of emotional distress case and how it relates to the facts of your case. What constitutes outrageous conduct is considered on a case-by-case basis. Moreover, the symptoms of emotional stress that rises to the level of severe emotional distress can vary from person to person.
Negligent Infliction Of Emotional Distress
A second type of case is the negligent infliction of emotional distress. In a negligence case, the defendant does not have the intent to cause emotional harm to the plaintiff. Moreover, negligent infliction of emotional distress has two types of plaintiffs. Plaintiffs that suffer a physical impact due to the defendant’s negligence and a resulting emotional injury can file an action. A plaintiff can also be a bystander and witness the harm caused to others and suffer emotional distress.
Four elements must be met for cases in which a defendant suffers a direct impact and a resulting emotional distress. The elements are as follows:
- The plaintiff must prove the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care;
- The defendant breached that duty of care;
- The plaintiff suffered damages; and
- The plaintiff must also prove the defendant’s breach of duty proximately caused the plaintiff’s harm.
As a bystander, you may also claim negligent infliction of emotional distress under the zone-of-physical-danger rule: “a bystander who is in a zone of physical danger and who, because of the defendant’s negligence, has reasonable fear for his own safety is given a right of action for physical injury or illness resulting from emotional distress.” Rickey v. Chicago Transit Authority, 98 Ill.2d 546, 555 (1983). The bystander is not required to suffer a physical impact or injury at the time of the negligent act; however, he or she must be within such proximity to the direct victim that the bystander was in a high risk of physical impact. Id.
Emotional distress cases are complex. Knowledgeable Illinois emotional distress attorneys at McCarthy, Rowden & Baker are experienced in both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. To consult your emotional distress case, contact us at 1-800-373-6050.