In this article, we discuss the law regarding the intentional infliction of emotional distress in Indiana and answer the following questions:
The wrongful act (tort) “infliction of emotional distress” is made up of four elements:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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