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Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article, we discuss the law regarding the intentional infliction of emotional distress in Indiana and answer the following questions:

  • What constitutes intentional infliction of emotional distress?
  • How is “extreme and outrageous conduct” determined in Indiana?
  • How does the court measure the amount of emotional distress in a claim?
  • What damages are awarded in an emotional distress lawsuit?

What Constitutes Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?

The wrongful act (tort) “infliction of emotional distress” is made up of four elements:

  1. The defendant engaged in “extreme and outrageous” conduct towards the plaintiff;
  2. The action was intentional or recklessly negligent;
  3. The action in question was the cause of the plaintiff’s complaint; and
  4. The extreme and outrageous conduct caused the plaintiff severe emotional distress.

Proving the alleged emotional distress in an IIED claim is difficult as the plaintiff must satisfy the “impact rule,” which deals with how the action affected the plaintiff and what other elements were involved. Furthermore, while intent is a big part of an IIED claim (versus a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim) it is not enough to show that the defendant acted in a criminal or malicious manner, his behavior must also be categorized at extreme and outrageous. 

How Is ”Extreme and Outrageous” Conduct Determined In Indiana?

Conduct is considered extreme and outrageous if it goes beyond the normal bounds of decency. But who decides the line separating decency and indecency? Ultimately, the court will consider all the facts of the case, compare the evidence to past cases, and take into account any special circumstances between the parties. Mere insults, indignities, threats, and annoyances will not satisfy an IIED claim. We are expected to be able to handle a certain amount of rough language, hurt feelings, and rude behavior. When considering if an action constitutes an IIED claim, think about how an average member of the community might react to hearing about the details of the claim. Would they exclaim, “That’s outrageous!” and have a strong sense of resentment towards the defendant? As one can see, it is difficult to be completely objective when considering an IIED claim.

How Does The Court Measure The Amount of Emotional Distress In A Claim?

In the plaintiff’s claim, he or she will usually indicate what amount of emotional distress they experienced from the defendant’s actions, how that emotional distress has impacted the plaintiff, and what the plaintiff’s party feels is the appropriate restitution. This gives the court a starting point from which it can compare past cases with similar elements—if they exist—and consider how an average member of society would be affected by the same conduct. The court will also take into account the frequency of the behavior, the relationship between the parties, whether the conduct was witnessed by others, and if the defendant had special knowledge about the plaintiff and used the knowledge deliberately during the action in question. Physical injury isn’t necessary for an IIED claim, but if the plaintiff experienced any physical injury during the action it will likely be taken into account, or another claim will be brought against the defendant.

Under Indiana law, the plaintiff does not need to have been the individual directly impacted by the action. This refers to Indiana’s “impact rule,” which is part of determining how the defendant impacted the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s direct or indirect involvement in the incident. For example, if a co-worker repeatedly taunted the plaintiff, and then put them in physical danger or actually injured the plaintiff, a direct cause of action could be established under the “impact rule.” But, what if a family member witnessed the death of a loved one due to the negligent or intentional behavior of another person. Can the family member still bring an IIED lawsuit against the offender? In most cases, yes. This would fall under the “bystander direct involvement test” and the family member will very likely still have a legitimate IIED claim.

What Damages Are Awarded In An Emotional Distress Lawsuit?

Punitive damages and attorney fees are not recoverable for IIED claims. The plaintiff can only recover damages for the actual injury suffered. This doesn’t mean receiving a physical injury is required for restitution, the plaintiff can be awarded damages for psychological pain and suffering; but without evidence to show some measurable degree of loss, such as bills from a therapist, lost wages due to emotional distress, etc, it’s difficult to quantify damages. The bottom line is if you feel someone has committed an intentional, outrageous act, causing you considerable emotional distress, you should speak to an attorney immediately.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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