Personal injuries are not only physical. In today’s instantly-connected, social media-saturated society, negatively affecting another person’s emotions and well-being—whether it’s a family member, an acquaintance or complete stranger—is unfortunately simpler than ever before. In certain circumstances, Massachusetts law provides a cause of action to those who have suffered severe emotional harm as a result of another person’s wrongful conduct.
Intentional/Reckless Infliction of Emotional Distress:
To establish a valid claim for intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff must show that:
Typically, the most difficult element to meet is showing that the defendant’s conduct was extreme or outrageous. Massachusetts courts have repeatedly noted that in order to satisfy this element, the conduct must be “beyond all possible bounds of decency” and “utterly intolerable in a civilized society.” Accordingly, mere insults, annoyances, and acts that are inconsiderate or unkind are not sufficiently extreme. However, threatening someone with serious physical harm or damage to personal property or causing someone extreme public embarrassment is conduct that typically satisfies this element.
Another hurdle that many plaintiffs face is establishing that their emotional distress was severe. Unsurprisingly, the fact that a plaintiff is merely upset or annoyed by a defendant’s actions is insufficient to meet this element. However, severity is generally established where the emotional distress has resulted in significant physical and/or behavioral changes, such as hopelessness, isolation, lack of interest in one’s usual activities, or self-harm. While not required, this element is often bolstered by testimony and/or records from medical providers or therapists.
Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress:
Massachusetts law also recognizes a cause action for negligent infliction of emotional distress. While negligent conduct is generally easier to prove than intentional or reckless conduct, negligence also requires that the defendant owe the plaintiff some duty of care that was breached. A person generally owes a duty of care when he/she is in a position of control or authority and the other person is relying on his/her expertise or services. Additionally, unlike a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, a valid claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress in Massachusetts strictly requires some objective corroboration of the distress suffered—usually through medical expert testimony and/or records.
The contents of this page are intended for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice. For guidance and advocacy tailored to the needs of your legal matter, please contact our office.