Intentional infliction of emotional distress is presumed in certain special relationships where one party “abuses” their position of power over another, including employer-employee, doctor-patient, attorney-client, and landlord-tenant (Restatement 2d of Torts § 46 comment e, CACI 1602). Apparently, a special relationship reduces the threshold for what is considered “outrageous” conduct. As a corollary, does this also lower the threshold for what is considered “severe” emotional distress in a special relationship? Cases seem to support this correlation. For example, with landlord-tenant, Aweeka v. Bonds (1971) 20 Cal. App.3d 278, 281 (retaliatory acts and eviction); Newby v. Alto Riviera Apartments (1976) 60 Cal. App.3d 288, 297-298 (retaliatory threats); Stoiber v. Honeychuck (1980) 101 Cal. App. 3d 903, 921-922 (unabated habitability violations); Richardson v. Pridmore (1950) 97 Cal. App.2d 124 (unlawful eviction). In all these cases, the “outrageous” conduct is not “so extreme as to exceed all bounds of that usually tolerated in a civilized community.” (Davidson v. City of Westminster (1982) 32 Cal.3d 197, 209.) The corresponding emotional distress inflicted is also implied to be sufficiently “severe” and not always long lasting. Similar examples can be found in employer-employee cases.
Yes. “[O]rdinary defendants are not liable for mere insult, indignity, annoyance, or even threats … Accordingly, it is generally held that there can be no recovery for mere profanity, obscenity, or abuse, without circumstances of aggravation, or for insults, indignities or threats which are considered to amount to nothing more than mere annoyance. The plaintiff cannot recover merely because of hurt feelings.” (Yurick v. Superior Court (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 1116, 1128.)
In California, to adequately allege a cause of action for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (“IIED"), the plaintiff must allege: (1) outrageous conduct by defendant; (2) intentional or reckless causing emotional distress; (3) severe emotional distress; and (4) causation. (Huntingdon Life Sciences, Inc. v. Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA, Inc. (2005) 129 Cal. App. 4th 1228, 1259.)
The extreme and outrageous character of the defendant's conduct may arise from an abuse of a position or relationship to plaintiff, which gives defendant actual or apparent authority over plaintiff. (Alcorn v. Anbro Eng., Inc. (1970) 2 Cal.3d at 493, 498.) If defendant proceeds in face of knowledge that plaintiff is peculiarly susceptible to emotional distress, defendant's conduct may become “extreme and outrageous” although it would not be so if defendant had been unaware of plaintiff's condition.
California Civil Code section 3294 permits an award of punitive damages only when there is clear and convincing evidence that the tortfeasor has been guilty of oppression, fraud or malice. Proof of malice requires either evidence of an intent to harm or of such a conscious and deliberate disregard for the interests of others that the conduct may be called willful or wanton. When there is no evidence of an intent to harm, the higher standard of proof requires evidence of a highly culpable state of mind that justifies an exemplary award. It must be established that the defendant was aware of the probable dangerous consequences of the conduct and willfully and deliberately failed to avoid those consequences. (College Hospital Inc. v. Superior Court (1994) 8 Cal.4th 704.)
Frank W. Chen has been licensed to practice law in California since 1988. The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This Avvo.com posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, please consult with your own attorney.
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