Intentional and Negligent
Infliction of Emotional Distress

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California Law on Negligent and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Personal injury lawsuits can allow victims to recover monetary damages for a wide range of harms. This includes harms that may not have a specific financial cost or cause obvious physical injury. California allows victims to request and recover monetary damages for emotional distress caused by another person.

If you have suffered emotional distress because of another person’s negligent actions or willful misconduct, you may be entitled to recover compensation. At Citywide Law Group, a personal injury lawyer can help you maximize the amount of money you receive. Call us today to set up a free consultation with our dedicated legal team.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

In California, victims who suffer emotional distress because of another person’s conduct can file a lawsuit for the intentional infliction of emotional distress. There is no requirement that a victim suffers a physical injury.

A successful claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress will require proving:

  1. The defendant’s conduct was outrageous,
  2. The defendant intended to cause harm or acted with reckless disregard of the likelihood of causing distress, and
  3. The victim suffered severe emotional distress because of the defendant’s conduct.

Outrageous Conduct

When should a defendant’s behavior be considered outrageous? California law defines “outrageous” behavior to mean “conduct so extreme that it goes beyond all possible bounds of decency.” Put another way, conduct will be considered outrageous if a reasonable person would find the behavior uncivilized. For behavior to be classified as outrageous is must go beyond minor annoyances and poor manners that should be anticipated in day-to-day activities.

Certain factors can influence whether or not behavior should be classified as outrageous, including:

  • Abuse of the position of authority
  • Knowledge of a victim’s vulnerability to emotional distress, and
  • Acting with knowledge that the behavior would likely cause emotional distress.

Reckless Disregard

A defendant will be considered to have acted with reckless disregard when:

  1. They knew that emotional distress would be a likely result, or
  2. They did not think about the probable consequences of their actions.

Here’s an example:

After consuming enough alcohol to elevate his BAC above the legal limit, a driver gets behind the wheel and drives. If the driver strikes and seriously injures another person, the victim may suffer from severe emotional trauma. The victim could argue that the drunk driver knew that a serious accident and resulting emotional distress were likely to happen, or that the driver did not consider the consequences of his actions, at all.

Severe Emotional Distress

Severe emotional distress is that which exceeds ordinary and short-lived anguish, suffering, anxiety, and grief. For distress to be considered “severe,” it must be “so substantial and long-lasting that no reasonable person” would be expected to endure it.

Situations When Damages for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress May Be Available

Damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress may be available if you are:

  • The victim of an assault or battery
  • The victim of sexual harassment, abuse, or assault
  • Injured by a product that is known to be dangerous or defective
  • Injured by a drunk or reckless driver, or
  • Injured because of other reckless and dangerous behavior.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

Unexpected accidents have the potential of changing a victim’s life forever. Some accidents may inflict life-altering physical injuries and disabilities. Others may cause a victim to suffer from debilitating emotional distress. If another person’s negligent conduct has caused you to suffer from emotional distress, you may be entitled to recover compensation.

A successful claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress will require proving:

  1. The defendant was negligent
  2. You suffered serious emotional distress, and
  3. The defendant’s negligence caused your distress.


Negligence occurs when a person has and breaches a duty of care that is owed to another person. In order to prove negligence, a victim must establish:

  1. The defendant owed the victim a duty of care
  2. This duty was breached in some way, and
  3. The breach caused the victim to suffer harm.

Negligence is frequently an issue in car accidents, slips and falls, medical malpractice, and workplace accidents.

Emotional Distress

Victims who base a claim on negligent infliction of emotional distress do not have to suffer severe emotional distress in order to recover damages. Instead, a victim of negligent infliction of emotional distress need only suffer from serious emotional distress. Serious emotional distress exists when a reasonable person, faced with anxiety, suffering, grief, or shock, would be unable to deal with it.

Emotional Distress Suffered By a Bystander

In California, bystanders who witness a traumatic event and suffer emotional distress may be able to recover monetary damages. If you are present at the scene of an accident when another person is injured or killed, you may be able to recover damages for emotional distress as a bystander.

In order to recover compensation for negligent infliction of emotional distress, a bystander must prove:

  1. The defendant negligently caused an injury or the death of a victim,
  2. The bystander was present when the injury or death occurred,
  3. The bystander was aware that the traumatic incident was causing the victim’s injury or death,
  4. Witnessing the victim’s injury or death caused the bystander to suffer serious emotional distress.

When Might You Be Eligible For Damages as a Bystander?

Bystanders must simply be present at the scene of an accident and aware of the fact that the victim, with whom they have a close relationship, is being injured or has been killed. Situations that may cause a bystander to be eligible for monetary damages include witnessing:

When Can I File a Claim for Emotional Distress?

California allows direct victims and, in some situations, bystanders to recover monetary damages for the emotional distress they have suffered because of a traumatic experience. However, victims suffering from emotional distress must act quickly.

The statute of limitations for these types of personal injury claims will only run for two years. This means that if a victim does not file a claim within two years of the distressing incident, they will not be able to recover the money they deserve.

California Personal Injury Attorneys

Has another person’s negligent, reckless, or intentional behavior caused you to suffer from emotional distress? Whether you’re dealing with extreme anxiety and grief, or trying to cope with shock and devastation, you may be entitled to compensation. The attorneys at Citywide Law Group can help you navigate the complex personal injury lawsuit process and get you the money you need and deserve. Call us today to schedule a free consultation with our skilled legal team. We will review your case, explain your legal options, and answer the questions you have.