Throughout life, most people suffer numerous physical injuries, and observe many others. Most are accidental. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2015 there were 30.8 million visits to emergency rooms for unintentional injuries. Common causes included unintentional falls, motor vehicle accidents, and poisoning. Unfortunately, 146,571 of these people died.
Of course, lots of other types of accidents occur, such as cuts, burns, shootings, and almost any other mishap one can imagine. Certainly, some of these injuries result from intentional acts, such as fights, crimes and other intentional conduct.
Whether caused by intentional or unintentional acts, these resulting injuries have something in common: they are often clearly visible. Even when they’re not, they can be diagnosed and measured through objective means, such as x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans.
But what about injuries that are mental or emotional in nature? They’re often not as openly and objectively visible as physical injuries to the body are, but can be just as devastating. So, when mental or emotional injuries are caused by the intentional acts of another, should the victim have the right to recover damages?
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress in Oregon
To victims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, emotional injuries are just as real as physical injuries. Over time, the law also has come to recognize this reality.
However, the law also recognizes that in life, people must have sufficient fortitude to withstand a certain level of rude, callous, or obnoxious behavior. Otherwise, the courts would be overrun with lawsuits. The law has developed over time in a manner to balance these interests.
A claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress must meet the following elements:
- The defendant must commit an act or acts which constitute an extraordinary transgression of the bounds of socially tolerable conduct.
- The defendant must intend to inflict severe emotional distress on the plaintiff.
- The plaintiff does, in fact, suffer severe emotional distress.
- The defendant’s acts must be the cause of the plaintiff’s severe emotional distress.
The plaintiff must prove each of the above four elements by a preponderance of the evidence. Sometimes, whether or not a particular element has been met creates a question of fact for a jury to decide, or a question of law for the court to decide.
The elements which probably create the most disagreements are whether the act is intentional and whether the act is sufficiently extraordinary to support a claim. We’ll discuss these particular elements in greater detail below.
Intent Element of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
The use of the word “intentional” in the tort’s name makes it obvious that this is an intentional tort. But it bears noting that this means that mere negligence is not enough.
However, there does not necessarily have to be a “malicious motive” or a “purposeful design” to cause the plaintiff’s emotional distress, although such a level of intent would suffice. The element can also be satisfied when a defendant knows that distress is certain, or substantially certain, to result from the defendant’s actions.
What Type of Acts Support a Claim for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?
To support a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the actions must be considered outrageous and must exceed the bounds of socially tolerable conduct.
For example, in the Oregon case of McManus v. Auchincloss, 271 Or. App. 765 (2015), the plaintiff took a job working for the defendant at his home. Defendant repeatedly requested that plaintiff view child pornography images that defendant possessed. Defendant received sexual gratification from the images, and knew that the plaintiff had been a victim of childhood sexual abuse. The court found the evidence sufficient to create a jury question.
In another case, the court found the extreme actions of a collection agency against a debtor to be sufficient to support a finding of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Call with Questions
If someone’s outrageous conduct has caused you emotional distress, you may have a right to recover under Oregon law. The experienced tort lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield will be happy to answer your questions. Only by discouraging wrongful conduct can we make society safe for everyone.