Guide to the Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

A disturbing incident can result in severe cases of emotional distress. Symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and memory issues are not uncommon when someone experiences a traumatic event. While some incidents may be caused by negligence, there are times when emotional duress is caused by intentional or outrageous acts perpetrated by another party. In this article, we’ll discuss the intentional infliction of emotional distress definition, the elements that constitute IIED, and some emotional distress examples.

What is Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) is a tort (i.e. civil wrong) that occurs when an individual suffers emotional distress due to an intentional or reckless act committed by another party. The person suffering from extreme emotional distress can sue the other party for the harm done to them. IIED differs from negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) in that the infliction of emotional distress was intentional or outrageous, compared to NIED, which is emotional distress caused typically by accident or unintentional carelessness.

Elements of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

While each state may vary in details, in general, there are four intentional infliction of emotional distress elements within a case:

1. The individual (defendant) acted with intent or recklessness.

The defendant must have acted with a clear intent to inflict emotional distress or, at the very least, should have known, the act would have caused emotional distress. 

2. The act was carried out in an outrageous or extreme manner.

The act carried out must be outrageous or extreme in nature. Simple insults or petty actions would generally not meet this standard. What does outrageous or extreme mean?  Typically the courts will consider an act outrageous when an individual commits a heinous act that no reasonable person would consider acceptable in society. An act of this nature would elicit outrage, shock, or horror from an average person. Other factors, such as the repeating of the act (i.e. not an isolated incident), abuse of authority, and exploitation of the vulnerable, can be indicators of whether an act was outrageous.

3. The outrageous act was the cause of the emotional distress.

The plaintiff must demonstrate there was a relationship between the outrageous act and the emotional distress suffered. In some instances, the infliction of emotional distress may not have even been directed at the plaintiff. An intentional infliction of emotional distress example could involve an outrageous act directed towards the plaintiff’s family member, in the presence of the plaintiff. If this act caused emotional distress on the part of the plaintiff, there may be grounds for an IIED claim.

4. The plaintiff suffered emotional distress.

While not as easy to demonstrate compared to physical injuries, there are ways to demonstrate emotional distress to the courts. For instance, the more intense the act was, the more likely the plaintiff will have suffered emotional anguish. Additionally, an ongoing act, rather than a one-time act, can cause severe distress in the victim. Symptoms, such as headaches, the inability to sleep, mood swings, etc. can all indicate emotional distress.


Let’s say a boss makes repeated sexual advances towards one of his employees. He knows this employee has been a victim of domestic abuse and is now a single mother supporting her three children. He threatens to out her in front of her coworkers if she doesn’t comply. He also threatens to fire her from her position, thereby cutting off her only source of income. As a result of his continual threats, the employee suffers anxiety and emotional trauma. She has lost weight and cannot sleep due to her past history with abuse, as well as the thought of not being able to support her children. In this case, the employee has grounds for an IIED lawsuit for the trauma she has experienced.

How Do I Legally Claim IIED

Filing for an IIED claim will vary by the state and local jurisdiction you are in. Depending on the intentional infliction of emotional distress damages, you’ll file suit in small claims or state district court. Small claims courts typically limit the amount of damage you can claim, however the process can be much quicker. You should always consult with an attorney before filing for an IIED claim. Emotional distress is not always easy to establish. A qualified attorney will help you document your emotional trauma establishing credibility to your case.

Key Takeaways

  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress occurs when an individual acts in an outrageous manner causing another person emotional distress.
  • The act must be of an outrageous nature, which means it crosses the boundary of normal decency.
  • Emotional distress can manifest itself through headaches, mood swings, anxiety, and more.  

Valiente Mott

If you believe you are a victim of IIED, contact our Nevada personal injury attorney experts for a free consultation. We’ll sit down with you and assess your case to see if you have grounds for a lawsuit. Valiente Mott exists to help personal injury victims and their loved ones receive the compensation they deserve. Contact us online or call us at (702) 623-2323 to talk with our team about your case. 

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