Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Under Virginia law, you can bring suit if someone does something outrageous to you out of a desire just to get you upset.  The lead case in Virginia is Womack v. Eldridge, 215 Va. 338, 210 S.E.2d 145 (1974), where the Virginia Supreme Court set out the elements:

  1. The wrongdoer’s conduct was intentional or reckless;
  2. The conduct was outrageous and intolerable in that it offends against generally accepted standards of decency and morality;
  3. There is a causal connection between the wrongdoer’s conduct and emotional distress; and
  4. The emotional distress is severe.

Other Virginia cases amplify on these points.  For example, in Ely v. Whitlock, 238 Va. 670, 385 S.E.2d 893 (1989), the Court held that the actions of the person being sued must have been done for the specific purpose of inflicting emotional distress, or that he did something intentional and knew or should have known that the other person would suffer severe emotional distress.  We had a case some years ago — before Ely v. Whitlock was decided — that makes this point.  In that case, a woman was being followed by a love-sick older man.  She didn’t want his attentions, and she told him that, but he persisted.  She practically had a nervous breakdown.  This was a case that was being brought in federal court because there was also a claim of sex discrimination in the workplace, but the federal courts threw out our  claim of an intentional infliction of emotional distress, ruling that the older man’s actions were not intended to cause the younger woman distress — he was doing what he was doing out of misplaced, and unrequited, love.

On the other hand, we also represented an African-American man who was threatened by a white man who stuck a gun in his ribs and told him, “I’m going to kill you, n*****.  There’s nothing I like better than a dead n*****.”  This was clearly both an assault and an intentional infliction of emotional distress; the conduct was outrageous, the conduct was intended to cause distress, and it did in fact cause post-traumatic stress disorder in the victim.  The jury made an award that reflected the seriousness of the conduct, and of the harm.

Again, a caution — don’t sue someone for revenge or because you want to be proven to be right; sue them if you think you deserve, and can collect, money.  This is a very technical area of the law, and if you think you have a good cause of action, please call us at 434-293-8185.