Intentional infliction of emotional distress is one of most difficult to prove of the intentional torts. The plaintiff
must first show that the defendant acted intentionally or recklessly,
that his conduct was extreme and outrageous, and that there was causation.
However, most difficult of all, the plaintiff must demonstrate that he
actually suffered emotional distress. Unlike physical injuries, emotional
distress can be exceedingly hard to show.
When dealing with physical pain and injuries, the trier of fact generally
has something to grab onto and empathize with. They can see a cast, neck
brace, wheelchair, crutch, scar, deformity, missing limb, X-ray, or limp.
In the case of emotional distress, even though it may be even more painful
than physical problems, there is nothing to see with just the naked eye.
The judge or jury must rely instead on less obvious evidence, and the
plaintiff must overcome any skepticism by providing compelling evidence
that they have indeed suffered emotional distress.
Ways to Demonstrate Emotional Distress to a Judge or Jury
In order to prove emotional distress to the trier of fact, the plaintiff
must successfully convey his own subjective psychological state to fellow
human beings. This is difficult in any context, let alone in a formal
courtroom setting. Here are a few techniques plaintiffs can utilize to
prove their emotional distress:
1. Bring a doctor’s note: This trick, which many of us used in school,
also works in a courtroom. Having a medical professional (particularly
a mental health specialist) provide official documentation of your emotional
distress can go a long way toward convincing a jury that you are telling
the truth. Having a doctor testify on your behalf may be even more compelling.
2. Demonstrate related bodily harm: Since the trier of fact cannot see
your emotional scars, it may be helpful to show them your physical scars.
Stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues often lead to physical
symptoms such as ulcers and headaches. Once again, make sure you get a
doctor to corroborate any medical condition you claim to have.
3. Show high intensity and long duration of distress: If you can show that
your emotional and mental distress are particularly intense, you have
a better chance of receiving compensation. It also helps to exhibit that
your suffering has lasted for many months or years and is not ephemeral.
By using these methods and others, you and your attorney may be able to
convey your emotional distress to a judge or jury. The classic name for
the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress was “outrage,”
and the best strategy for winning a case like this is to produce outrage
on the part of the judge or jury toward the defendant.
What to Do if You Are the Victim of Emotional Distress
If you have been the victim of emotional distress and feel that you deserve
compensation, you should contact a personal injury attorney immediately.
An attorney can review the facts of your case and determine whether you
have a viable claim. If so, they can help you seek the compensation you deserve.