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Illinois Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress Explained

Article written by Illinois & Iowa Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
November 1, 2019

In order to maintain a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), you must show:

  1. that the conduct of the defendant was extreme and outrageous; 
  2. that the defendant intended to cause you severe emotional distress or knew that there was a high probability that his conduct would cause such distress; and
  3. that the defendant’s conduct did in fact cause you severe emotional distress.

What qualifies as extreme and outrageous conduct? 

First, let’s take a closer look at the first element, “extreme and outrageous” conduct.  Conduct is extreme and outrageous if it goes beyond the bounds of decency.  It must be more than mere insults, indignities, or threats. When deciding whether conduct is extreme and outrageous, courts will look at all the facts of the case and make a determination on a case by case basis.

Courts will take into consideration the frequency and duration of the defendant’s conduct, and particularly whether a pattern of conduct exists.  In addition, if the defendant has abused a special position or relationship, such as employer, police officer, landlord, or collecting creditor, courts are more likely to find his conduct to be outrageous.  If you have a mental or physical condition that makes you particularly susceptible to emotional distress, courts will take the defendant’s knowledge of your condition into consideration.

How severe must the distress be?

The threshold question in determining whether emotional distress is severe enough to give rise to a cause of action is whether an ordinary person could be expected to endure it.  Physical injury is not required to maintain an IIED claim.   Courts will weigh both the intensity and the duration of the distress.


Punitive damages and attorney fees are not recoverable for IIED claims.  This means that you can only recover damages to compensate you for actual injury suffered.  This need not necessarily be physical injury.  You can recover for pain and suffering.  However, absent bills from a therapist, pain and suffering damages are difficult to prove and quantify.

Bottom line: If you believe that someone has committed an outrageous act with the intention of causing you emotional distress, you may have a cause of action for IIED and should speak to an attorney.

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