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Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress in California

emotional distress, intentional actions, Monterey injury attorneyIn California, if a person intends his or her conduct to cause an emotional, rather than a physical, injury to another individual, then he or she can be held liable for damages that occur as a result. Being the target of the intentional infliction of emotional distress can have severe consequences on a person’s quality of life, so if you have been a victim of such a crime, it is imperative that you contact an experienced attorney who can explain your legal options.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

To hold a person liable for the intentional infliction of emotional distress requires a showing that: 

  • The defendant’s conduct was outrageous; and
  • The defendant intended to cause emotional distress.

Alternatively, a plaintiff may establish the intentional infliction of emotional distress by showing that: 

  • The defendant acted with reckless disregard of the probability that the plaintiff would suffer emotional distress;
  • The defendant knew that the plaintiff was present when the conduct occurred;
  • The plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress; and
  • The defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s severe emotional distress.
Severe Emotional Distress

Severe emotional distress means that the distress is so substantial or enduring that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it. It includes highly unpleasant mental reactions, such as fright, grief, shame, anger, or worry. Whether emotional distress rises to the level of “severe” is a question of fact for the jury.

Outrageous Conduct

Conduct is considered outrageous when it is so extreme that a reasonable person would find it intolerable. Behavior may be considered outrageous if a defendant: 

  • Abuses a relation or position that gives him or her power to damage the plaintiff’s interests;
  • Knows the plaintiff is susceptible to injuries through mental distress; or
  • Acts intentionally or unreasonably with the recognition that the acts are likely to result in illness through mental distress. 

Often, conduct is considered outrageous when it involves abuse of certain types of relationships, including:

  • Employer-employee;
  • Insurer-insured;
  • Landlord-tenant;
  • Hospital-patient;
  • Attorney-client;
  • Collecting creditors; and
  • Religious institutions. 

Generally, the use of profanity, obscenity, or abuse is not enough, without circumstances of aggravation, to reach the level of “outrageous.”


Someone who has suffered from an intentional infliction of emotional distress can recover compensatory damages, even when no physical injury is suffered or monetary loss sustained.

An injury does not have to be physical to have a profound impact on a person’s life. Emotional injuries can be just as painful as many types of physical wounds, and are sometimes more difficult to treat.

If you or someone you know was the victim of an intentional infliction of emotional distress, an attorney can help you recover compensation for your harm. Please contact the Monterey County personal injury attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. for a free consultation.

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