To establish a case based on “intentional infliction of emotional distress”, the plaintiff must prove the following:
1. The defendant intended to inflict emotional distress or he knew or should have known that emotional distress was likely to result from his conduct.
2. The defendant’s conduct was “extreme and outrageous”.
3. The defendant’s actions were the cause of the plaintiff’s distress.
4. The emotional distress sustained by the plaintiff was severe.
These standards were proposed by Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) in Agin v. Howard Johnson.
Subsequent cases show what actions may rise to the level of “extreme and outrageous” conduct.
For example, in Boyle v. Wenk, a private investigator’s incessant and harassing communications with the plaintiff (e.g., contacting her in the middle of the night and contacting her after her hospitalization) met the standard set by Agin.
Also, in Simon v. Solomon, the court found that a landlord’s refusal to repair sewage leaks at his rental property was “extreme and outrageous.”
The SJC has also ruled that a plaintiff’s claims are viable “even though no bodily harm may result” from the defendant’s actions.
Nevertheless, the plaintiff should be prepared to show at least a few of the following harms:
Loss of productivity
Loss of earning capacity
See George v. Jordan Marsh Co.
Finally, plaintiffs should be advised that courts are often reluctant to award damages based on intentional infliction of emotional distress.
As the SJC states in Agin, “we believe the door to recovery should be opened but narrowly and with due caution.”
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