Intentional v. Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress: What’s the Difference?

April 6th, 2018

Did you know that you can recover damages for the emotional distress you experience at the expense of a third party’s conduct? There are two categories of emotional distress. The first is, ‘intentional infliction of emotional distress’ and the second is, ‘negligent infliction of emotional distress.’ The two categories differ on the intent of the third party.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

According to U.S. Legal, the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress is commonly referred to as the tort of outrage. In this type of claim, the plaintiff will have to prove that the defendant’s conduct was extreme or outrageous and intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress, and possible bodily harm. It should be understood that not all offensive conduct qualifies as intentional infliction of emotional distress. Courts have found that people should have to deal with a level of rude or offensive conduct from others. However, when a person knows that someone has a specific fear and preys on that fear with intentional rude or offensive behavior, that behavior can fall under a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. For example, if Kevin knows that Sam has a fear of small, crammed spaces and is claustrophobic, Kevin can be held liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress if he locks Sam in a small closet.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

On the other hand, negligent infliction of emotional distress can occur when someone witnesses a severely traumatic event and suffers emotional distress. For example, if a mother arrives to the scene of a drunk driving accident and witnesses the final breathes of her son, she may have a claim against the drunk driver.

There are specific elements that need to be satisfied in order to bring a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. According to FindLaw, the elements are as follows:

  1. Foreseeability. The defendant must have been able to reasonably foresee that his or her actions would have caused the emotional distress.
  2. Zone of Danger. The plaintiff has to be in the “zone of danger” and at risk of physical harm or emotional distress. The plaintiff must be able to see, hear, or feel the negligent act.
  3. Impact. Defendant’s negligence must have at least a minor impact on the plaintiff. The negligent act must have impacted the plaintiff’s emotional state.

Contact Us

The Bottaro Law Firm handles a variety of personal injury cases on a daily basis. If you or a loved one has suffered a personal injury as the result of someone else’s negligence, do not hesitate to contact us. You can call or text us at 401-777-7777 or fill out our free online form.