Infliction Of Mental Distress In Tort Law

Learn what the tort of infliction of mental distress is all about and how it could affect the outcome of a case.

The infliction of mental distress is a new concept in the area of tort law. And it can be one with ambiguity and be a difficult tort to prove. Yet, its importance is great and it needs to be considered where other torts might be involved.

The infliction of mental distress can be committed intentionally or recklessly. When it is committed intentionally, the tortfeasor, the attacker, wants to bring about a certain consequence and understands the implications of actions followed through on. When the tort is committed recklessly, the defendant, the tortfeasor acts with deliberate disregard of the emotional distress likely to occur.

An unreasonable behavior is not enough to claim infliction of mental distress. The act must be extreme and outrageous. Outrageous conduct is that which is considered intolerable in a civilized society and exceeds all boundaries of decency. For example, if someone tells you your daughter has been seriously injured in a hit-and-run accident, but she wasn't really, that would be grounds for claiming infliction of mental distress.



Slight insults and petty disagreements will not be sufficient for infliction of mental distress. Unless, the defendant, the attacker, uses a position in such a way to be abusive. This could be someone in a place of power, such as in a school. An authority who causes distress to a student, by verbally making threats, could be held liable for mental distress infliction.

When a person of lower-than-average intelligence seeks recovery for mental distress, their case is considered differently than others. A defendant who takes advantage of such a person will be held liable even though that same behavior would not be considered outrageous with someone of average intelligence.

Courts will often consider differently infliction of emotional distress. If someone holds up a sign at a physician's clinic with your name on it and saying what you are doing inside the building, that person could be held for infliction of mental distress. This kind of behavior is considered more than a petty insult and is outrageous in many ways. Another court might say that it was freedom of speech and their behavior is protected.

The transferred intent doctrine isn't easy to apply to a case of infliction of mental distress. If it were, there would surely be a flood of litigation and cases of people claiming such a scenario and seeking damages. When this would apply is if the defendant directs conduct against a member of the plaintiff's family and knows that the plaintiff is observing the event. A man who beats his wife in front of a child could have the child claim infliction of mental distress through the transferred intent doctrine.

When a plaintiff seeks recovery from infliction of mental distress, there needs to be proof that severe emotional distress did occur and some kind of medical attention was needed. Some courts go so far as to require suffering of physical distress by the plaintiff as well.

Some people are held to a higher standard of conduct than the general population. These people would be common carriers and public utilities personnel who can be held liable for highly insulting language. An insult to a customer by one of those employees would be considered cause for an infliction of mental distress claim.

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