Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

There is, ostensibly, a claim of action available in Texas that is called “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.” It is a tort, meaning that it isn’t defined by a statute and isn’t a subject of contract.

I say “ostensibly” because it is almost impossible to find an action that meets the definition.

To be recoverable, the conduct of the defendant must be outrageous in character and so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency. It must be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.

Now that’s one bad conduct.

Behaviour isn’t considered outrageous simply because it is illegal, unscrupulous or ignominious. It doesn’t include mere insults, bickering, threats, annoyances, petty oppressions or other trivialities.

It is very rarely found in employment situations, because in Texas employers are free to criticize, fire, belittle, demote, transfer and discipline its employees. In some cases, the employer has called the employee a thief, forced an employee to quit by creating an unpleasant workplace, or referred to the employee with derogatory names. None of these actions were found to be recoverable.

It’s called a “gap-filler tort.” There can be no recovery under Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress if it is merely an offshoot of another type of wrong that is covered by statute or tort. For example, if it is coupled with a discrimination claim, then the only recovery would be under the discrimination claim.

Even if the tort can be proved, the plaintiff still has to show that the actions cause him or her severe emotional distress. It includes all highly unpleasant responses such as horror, grief, anger, fright, worry, humiliation and nausea.

What types of cases have lost?

A widower who sued a newspaper for publishing photographs of his dead wife in her coffin.

A customer who sued a store that detained and searched him after falsely accusing him of shoplifting.

What types of cases have prevailed?

A customer whose conduct toward the wife of a dying concrete contractor included making repeated, unnecessary calls during nonbusiness hours, screaming at her, and threatening to terminate their contract.

A stepdaughter against her stepfather for threatening to release videotapes that he had made of her while subjecting her to sexual abuse.

Proving a case is very difficult, but not impossible.