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What Does Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress Mean in California?

When it comes to lawsuits in California, suffering physical harm isn’t the only factor that matters. State law recognizes emotional distress as a valid reason to bring a legal claim against the person who committed the act that caused it. 

If the defendant in your case is held liable for intentionally inflicting severe emotional distress, you may be able to recover both punitive and compensatory damages.

The Legal Meaning of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

You do not have to prove any physical injury to bring a lawsuit for emotional distress. A successful claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress must establish three facts:

  • The defendant displayed outrageous behavior
  • The plaintiff experienced severe emotional distress as a result
  • The defendant either intended to cause severe emotional distress or acted with reckless disregard for the plaintiff

The following sections will explain these three issues and help you understand how California law handles emotional distress cases.

Outrageous Behavior

Outrageous behavior is not about your hurt feelings due to someone’s tone or your disapproval of someone’s actions. For the law to consider a person’s behavior outrageous, their actions must fall outside the boundaries of what a reasonable member of society would deem decent or tolerable.

The law may label the defendant’s behavior outrageous if they abused their position of authority over the plaintiff, understood that the defendant was present and vulnerable to mental or emotional trauma, or knew their actions would cause the plaintiff severe emotional distress.

Emotional Distress

Emotional distress encompasses a wide range of emotions, including shock, anguish, anxiety, grief, humiliation, and more. However, California law indicates that plaintiffs can only recover damages if their emotional distress is severe. 

Severe emotional distress has two main characteristics: it is substantial or long-lasting (not brief or passing), and it must be so substantial that no reasonable person is expected to bear it.

Being horrified or upset about another person’s behavior doesn’t constitute a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Lawmakers have reserved this label for grim situations that are likely to significantly alter and have an ongoing impact on a plaintiff’s life, such as sexual abuse, battery, retaliation, DUI accidents, or excessive use of force.

Proving Intent

In order to claim intentional infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff must be able to prove that either the defendant had intent to cause them severe emotional distress or that they acted with no regard for the plaintiff.

Proving intent can be difficult, as a defendant may not be forthcoming about a malicious objective. However, California law does not require the plaintiff to prove the defendant had an evil motive. 

It is enough to show that they knew their conduct would likely cause emotional distress but gave little thought to that probability. The law considers this to be acting with “reckless disregard.”

You may not know whether the person who inflicted emotional distress upon you wanted that to be the situation’s outcome. Even if that was not their intent, you do not have to tolerate anyone’s reckless and outrageous behavior. You have the right to seek compensation for the distress you endured.

Navigating Emotional Distress Laws in California

Emotional distress laws are complex, and proving your case requires skill and careful attention to detail. If you have been a victim of intentionally inflicted emotional distress, it’s best to get help from a personal injury attorney who can adequately assess your damages. 

Get in touch with a Los Angeles-based personal injury attorney from Saeedian Law Group, and let our attorneys review your case and discuss the next steps in fighting for your rights.