When a person is injured, he or she may be able to recover compensation for damages by filing an injury claim. Damages include economic and noneconomic losses. Examples of economic damages could include the cost of medical care, loss of income, damage to property, or other expenses related to the accident or injury. Noneconomic damages are often referred to as “pain and suffering” damages, such as physical pain, emotional stress, and mental anguish.
In some cases, the conduct of the person who caused the injury is so outrageous and extreme that it exceeds the bounds of decency or the norms of civilized society. When conduct intentionally or recklessly causes emotional harm, the injured person may be entitled to additional damages for the infliction of emotional injury.
It is common to experience stress and anxiety after an accident. However, some events can cause a heightened level of emotional torment, anxiety, shock, and depression. A person can negligently cause emotional damage without intending to do so. For instance, a driver who is leaning over to pick up a cell phone that fell into the floor may be guilty of negligent infliction of emotional stress if they cause a car crash that injures other parties while they were distracted.
On the other hand, a person may be guilty of intentionally inflicting emotional harm if they act in a manner that they knew or should have known would cause distress. For example, an individual taking medication that he knows can increase the effects of alcohol goes to a bar and drinks heavily. The person then decides to drive home instead of calling a cab. On the way home, the person causes a car crash that claims the life of a young child who dies in the mother’s arms. The fact that the individual knew they were taking medication that had a warning to avoid alcohol, but they chose to drink and drive could be considered an intentional infliction of emotional pain and harm.
The question becomes whether the person “intended” to cause harm by knowingly acting in a specific manner or acting in a matter which they should have known had the potential to cause emotional harm. The question can be tough to answer in some cases. However, when a person’s actions are intentional and lead to further pain and suffering, the court may grant additional money to compensate the victim for the harm.
When an accident victim is attempting to prove that the person who caused the accident intended to cause extreme emotional distress, the victim must prove each element required by law for the claim. Generally, the three elements required (in Arizona) are:
Defining extreme conduct or outrageous conduct can be tricky. Conduct must go beyond being offensive, harmful, or merely hurtful. In most cases, mere insults or rudeness do not qualify as outrageous. Likewise, the conduct of a driver who turns their head to talk to a passenger and crashes into a pedestrian is likely not going to be considered extreme. On the other hand, if the driver is having intercourse with a passenger and strikes a pedestrian, the court may find this conduct to be outrageous.
In addition to the defendant’s behavior, the level of distress experienced because of the conduct must be “severe.” The definition of “severe” is often left to the jury to determine. In many cases, a plaintiff must prove to the jury that the distress caused by the defendant’s conduct rose above the level of stress that a reasonable person should be forced to endure.
An attorney uses several factors to help a jury conclude that the distress was severe, including the duration and intensity of the emotional damage. Also, physical injury and mental manifestations of distress, such as eating disorders, sleep problems, paranoia, ulcers, and chronic migraines.
Proving that an action was intentional for an emotional distress claim can be difficult, especially without trained, experienced, and skilled legal counsel. Visit our website to find more information on the different practice areas we take on.