Telephone Death Threats, Unreasonable Drug Tests, and Other Extreme and Outrageous Conduct: Exploring the Intense World of IIED

“Anybody who is not shocked by this subject has failed to understand it. ”

— Niels Bohr

Intentional infliction of emotional distress, or IIED, is intense.

It’s a theory of liability that allows you to sue someone if they did something extreme which caused you severe emotional distress.

IIED is comprised of 2 parts: 1) intentional or reckless extreme and outrageous conduct 2) that causes a plaintiff to suffer severe emotional distress.

We’re not talking about careless behavior. We’re talking about conduct that causes someone to scream “Outrageous!” The conduct must be so extreme “as to exceed all bounds of decency in a civilized world,” as the courts like to say. Not just bad behavior. Really bad behavior.

Behavior in certain contexts is more likely to be considered extreme and outrageous: 1) when a defendant abuses a position of power; or 2) when a defendant knows that a plaintiff is susceptible to mental distress.

Other than that, however, there is no rule that says certain conduct is deemed extreme and outrageous. Matters are decided on a case by case basis. But here’s a parade of horribles where California courts have found IIED:

  • Telephone threats of violence and death in Kiseskey v. Carpenters’ Trust for So. California, 144 Cal.App. 3d 222 (1983);
  • Employer requires employee to undergo drug testing when employee is not suspected of drug use in Kraslawsky v. Upper Deck Co., 56 Cal.App. 4th 179 (1997);
  • Trustee’s solicitation of sexual favors from decedent’s former wife in Hughes v. Pair, 46 Cal.4th 1035 (2009);
  • Offer to book a flight on plane that recently crashed killing everyone aboard in Cochran v. Cochran, 65 Cal.App. 4th 488 (1998); and
  • Reporter’s interview of unaccompanied minors about murder of next door playmates in KOVR-TV, Inc. v. Superior Court, 31 Cal.App. 4th 1023 (1995).

IIED is an intense tort that few outside of the law are aware of. But it’s used to punish people’s bad behavior. Hopefully you’ll never experience extreme and outrageous behavior that causes you severe emotional distress. But if you do, remember IIED.

Questions? Contact Me for a free consultation.


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