Do You Have a Claim for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Personal Injury Attorney

Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) is one of the most common tort claims brought in civil court; however, what many people don’t know is that it is also one of the most difficult claims to prevail on.  The following elements must be proven: (1) the defendant acted intentionally or recklessly in doing the act alleged to be wrongful which produced the emotional distress; (2) the conduct was so extreme and outrageous as to go beyond all bounds of human decency; (3) the defendant’s actions caused the emotional distress; and (4) the distress was so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it. Turner v. Wong, 363 N.J. Super. 186, 190 (App. Div. 2003).

On the face of it, most people believe that IIED translates into: “Well, if Person X hurts my feelings and I have to go to therapy because of what this person did, I can probably make few thousand dollars in court.”  Wait, not so fast!  See, the element that is most problematic for plaintiffs in NJ to prove is whether or not the conduct satisfies the extreme and outrageous element.  Rather than talking about one case, we’ll list a few cases and discuss them in order to illustrate the difference between cases that the court found the defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous and cases where the court did not find the conduct was extreme and outrageous.  But before we do, take a guess as to how the courts ruled on the following four cases.

(1) a county sheriff’ used an inflammatory racial slur to refer to a black employee, Taylor v. Metzger, 152 N.J. 490, 508-21 (1998);

(2) a teacher’s false report that her co-worker, a teacher, who was a practicing non-violent Buddhist, had threatened to kill her students, and arranged to have the plaintiff removed publicly from the school, allegedly in retaliation for rebuking the teacher’s sexual advances, Leang v. Jersey City Bd. of Educ., 198 N.J. 557, 568, 587-88 (2009);

(3) the decedent’s children from an earlier marriage were not informed about the death of their parent and thus excluded from the viewing at the funeral home after the decedent was murdered, Cole v. Laughrey Funeral Home, 376 N.J. Super. 135, 147-48 (2005).

(4) a supervisor expressed doubt that the plaintiff had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and then came near her “on the verge of physically bumping into [the plaintiff’s] breast area as if to see” if she truly had a mastectomy, Harris v. Middlesex County College, 353 N.J. Super. 31, 36, 46-47 (2002);

NJ courts held that Cases (1) and (2) rose to level of extreme and outrageous conduct, while they held that Cases (3) and (4) did not rise to level of extreme and outrageous conduct.  In short, the rule of thumb in IIED cases is that if the conduct is merely annoying, frustrating, and angering, that is usually not enough for NJ courts to rule that the conduct is extreme and outrageous.  The conduct needs to be so embarrassing, so ruthlessly cold and hurtful, that no person should ever be expected to endure it.

Another point to keep in mind is that the statute of limitations in NJ is only two years long, so if you think you have a claim for IIED, it is important that you see a lawyer as soon as possible.

To discuss your NJ Personal Injury matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.

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