Can I Sue for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress in the District of Columbia?

by | Feb 22, 2016

If someone needlessly caused you severe emotional distress, you might wonder if the law provides recourse. In the District of Columbia, emotionally distressed victims may file a claim, but the bar set for a successful claim is high. In order to prevail on a claim for deliberate infliction of emotional anguish, you need to show three elements to the court: that the conduct was (1) extreme and outrageous, (2) intentional or reckless, and (3) causes you severe emotional suffering. See District of Columbia v. Tulin, 994 A.2d 788 (D.C. 2010).

These are not easy elements to meet. In order to meet the first prong of extreme and outrageous conduct, you need to demonstrate that the conduct rose above “indignities, insults, annoyances, threats, petty oppressions, or other trivialities.” Walden v. Covington, 415 A.2d 1070 (D.C. 1980). Basically, the conduct has to completely exceed any shred of common decency and exceed any civil society’s limit on tolerated behavior. If someone just ticket you off, you’re probably not going to win your case. Here are some examples of conduct that D.C. courts have found extreme and outrageous:

  • Repeated verbal and physical sexual harassment at the workplace
  • Making false statement that caused someone to be arrested for theft
  • Death threats
  • Subjecting employee to loud, disruptive, and piercing noise throughout the workday

The second element – intentional or reckless conduct – can be inferred from the outrageousness of the conduct. Essentially, if the defendant’s conduct rises to the level of extreme or outrageous sufficient for an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, you may not need to prove to the court that the defendant had a specific intent to cause the plaintiff’s emotional distress.
You will finally need to show that the conduct caused you severe emotional distress. Angst, losing sleep, and humiliation are not enough to make a showing of severe emotional distress. See Kitt v. Capital Concerts, Inc., 742 A.2d 856 (D.C. 1999). The severe emotional distress must be “so acute a nature that harmful physical consequences might be not unlikely to result.” Id. You do not have to prove actual physical injury, but the hurdle to meet this element of an IIED claim is still very high.

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