Go to Home Page
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) - California Law
Summary: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) claims require
Defendant’s extreme and outrageous conduct with an intent or reckless
probability to cause and actually causing Plaintiff severe emotional
Cause of Action Elements: The elements of the tort of intentional
infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) are:
"(1) extreme and outrageous conduct by the defendant with the intention
of causing, or reckless disregard of the probability of causing,
To prevail on an IIED action, Plaintiff must prove all three elements above.
(2) the plaintiff's suffering severe or extreme emotional distress; and
(3) actual and proximate causation of the emotional distress by the
defendant's outrageous conduct." (Cervantez v. J.C. Penney Co. (1979)
24 Cal.3d 579, 593.
Extreme and Outrageous Conduct: "Conduct to be outrageous must be so
extreme as to exceed all bounds of that usually tolerated in a
civilized community." (Cervantez v. J.C. Penney Co. (1979) 24 Cal.3d
579, 593). "Generally, conduct will be found to be actionable where the
'recitation of the facts to an average member of the community would
arouse his resentment against the actor, and lead him to exclaim,
'Outrageous!' ' " (KOVR-TV, Inc. v. Superior Court (1995) 31
Cal.App.4th 1023, 1028).
“[I]t is generally held that there can be no recovery for mere
profanity, obscenity, or abuse, without circumstances of aggravation,
or for insults, indignities or threats which are considered to amount
to nothing more than mere annoyances.” (Yurick v. Superior Court
(1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 1116, 1128).
“ ‘Behavior may be considered outrageous if a defendant:
(1) abuses a relation or position that gives him power to damage the
(2) knows the plaintiff is susceptible to injuries through mental
(3) acts intentionally or unreasonably with the recognition that the
acts are likely to result in illness through mental distress. . . .’ ”
(Molko v. Holy Spirit Ass’n (1988) 46 Cal.3d 1092, 1122).
Relationships that have been recognized as significantly contributing
to the conclusion that particular conduct was extreme and outrageous
- Employer-Employee (Alcorn v. Anbro Engineering, Inc. (1970) 2 Cal.3d
493, 498, fn.2;
- Insurer-Insured (Fletcher v. Western National Life Insurance Co.
(1970) 10 Cal.App.3d 376, 403–404);
- Landlord-Tenant (Aweeka v. Bonds (1971) 20 Cal.App.3d 278, 281–282);
- Hospital-Patient (Bundren v. Superior Court (1983) 145 Cal.App.3d
- Attorney-Client (McDaniel v. Gile (1991) 230 Cal.App.3d 363, 373);
- Collecting Creditors (Bundren v. Superior Court (1983) 145 Cal.App.3d
784, 791, fn. 8); and
- Religious Institutions (Molko v. Holy Spirit Ass’n (1988) 46 Cal.3d
Mental State of Defendant: The fact that conduct might be termed
outrageous is not itself sufficient. "The tort calls for intentional,
or at least reckless conduct-- conduct intended to inflict injury or
engaged in with the realization that injury will result." (Davidson v.
City of Westminster (1982) 32 Cal.3d 197, 210).
The conduct must be of a nature that is especially calculated to cause
very serious mental distress. Ochoa v. Superior Court (1985)
39 Cal.3d 159, 165, fn. 5).
Moreover, to support the cause of action, "[i]t is not enough that the
conduct be intentional and outrageous. It must be conduct directed at
the plaintiff, or occur in the presence of a plaintiff of whom the
defendant is aware." (Christensen v. Superior Court (1991) 54 Cal.3d
In Christensen, the California State Supreme Court noted that commentators had suggested
recovery for reckless conduct usually requires that the plaintiff be
present at the time of the conduct and be known by the defendant to be
present. The court agreed: "..the presence of the plaintiff at the time
the outrageous conduct occurs is recognized as the element establishing
a higher degree of culpability… than allowed on a negligent infliction
of emotional distress theory.” (Christensen, supra, 54 Cal.3d at
“[I]t is not essential to liability that a trier of fact find a
malicious or evil purpose. It is enough that defendant ‘devoted little
or no thought’ to probable consequences of his conduct.” (KOVR-TV, Inc.
v. Superior Court (1995) 31 Cal.App.4th 1023, 1031–1032.
“In determining whether the conduct is sufficiently outrageous or
unreasonable to become actionable, it is not enough that the creditor’s behavior is
rude or insolent. However, such conduct may rise to the level of outrageous
conduct where the creditor knows the debtor is susceptible to emotional
distress because of her physical or mental condition.” (Symonds v. Mercury Savings &
Loan Assn. (1990) 225 Cal.App.3d 1458, 1469).
Severe Mental and Emotional Distress: "Severe emotional distress means,
then, emotional distress of such substantial quantity or enduring
quality that no reasonable man in a civilized society should be
expected to endure it." (Fletcher v. Western National Life Ins. Co.
(1970) 10 Cal.App.3d 376, 397).
"…[I]n the the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress,
…"severe emotional distress" … entails such intense, enduring and
nontrivial emotional distress that "no reasonable [person] in a
civilized society should be expected to endure it." (Fletcher v.
Western National Life Ins. Co. (1970) 10 Cal.App.3d 376, 397.
Schild v. Rubin (1991) 232 Cal.App.3d 755, 762-763).
Fear of Cancer, AIDS or HIV: “[I]t must ... be established that
plaintiff’s fear of cancer [AIDS, or HIV] is reasonable, that is, that
the fear is based upon medically or scientifically corroborated
knowledge that the defendant’s conduct has significantly increased the
plaintiff’s risk of cancer [AIDS, or HIV] and that the plaintiff’s
actual risk of the threatened cancer [AIDS, or HIV] is significant.”
(Potter v. Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. (1993) 6 Cal.4th 965, 1004);
Herbert v. Regents of University of California (1994) 26 Cal.App.4th
782, 787–788. See also Kerins v. Hartley (1994) 27 Cal.App.4th 1062,
1075. CACI Number 1601.
“Emotional distress” includes any “highly unpleasant mental reactions,
such as fright, horror, grief, shame, humiliation, embarrassment, anger,
disappointment, or worry.” (Fletcher v. Western National Life Insurance
Co. (1970) 10 Cal.App.3d 376, 397).
Physical injury and/or monetary loss is not required: "‘One who has wrongfully and intentionally [suffered severe emotional
distress] may recover compensatory damages even though he or she has
suffered no physical injury,’ and ‘the right to compensation exists
even though no monetary loss has been sustained.’ ” (Grimes v. Carter
(1966) 241 Cal.App.2d 694, 699).
Trial Court Initial Determination: “[T]he trial court initially
determines whether a defendant’s conduct may reasonably be regarded as
so extreme and outrageous as to permit recovery. Where reasonable men
can differ, the jury determines whether the conduct has been extreme
and outrageous to result in liability. Otherwise stated, the court
determines whether severe emotional distress can be found; the jury
determines whether on the evidence it has, in fact, existed.” (Plotnik
v. Meihaus (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 1590, 1614).
Worker’s Compensation Exclusion: "Severe emotional distress" arising
from "outrageous" conduct that occurred "at the worksite, in the normal
course of the employer-employee relationship" is the type of injury
that falls within the exclusive province of workers'
compensation. Miklosy v. Regents of University of California (2008) 44
Cal.4th 876, 902. Such excludes and precludes an IIED cause of
Affirmative Defense - Privileged: “…it must also appear that the
defendants’ conduct was unprivileged.” (Fletcher v. Western National
Life Insurance Co. (1970) 10 Cal.App.3d 376, 394).
Some Actual Case Examples:
Extreme and Outrageous Conduct:
- KOVR-TV, Inc. v. Superior Court (1995) 31 Cal. App.4th 1023,
1028-1031 [news reporter's interview of preteen children, including
advising them of murder of children's two playmates by playmates'
mother and her subsequent suicide, sufficient for finding of outrageous
conduct to defeat Defendant's summary judgment motion];
- Kiseskey v. Carpenters' Trust for So. California (1983) 144
Cal.App.3d 222, 229-230 [threats of personal harm, death, and harm to
family if the plaintiff did not sign union agreement constituted
- Cochran v. Cochran (1998) 65 Cal.App.4th 488, 494-499 [single
telephone message referring to recent sensational airline crash that
the plaintiffs interpreted as death threat not outrageous conduct].
- Fletcher v. Western National Life Ins. Co. (1970) 10 Cal. App.3d 376, [the insurer engaged in outrageous behavior by seeking
to limit, and later denying, disability benefits based on unfounded
assertions the insured's injury was the result of sickness or a birth
defect. The insurer not only stopped payments without any supportable
basis, but also threatened the insured with a lawsuit to recover
previous payments and, knowing the insured was in dire financial
straits, attempted to coerce him into surrendering his policy in
exchange for $1,200. The court recognized the evidence demonstrated
outrageous conduct because the insurer "embarked upon a concerted
course of conduct to induce plaintiff to surrender his insurance policy
or enter into a disadvantageous `settlement' of a nonexistent dispute
by means of false and threatening letters and the employment of
economic pressure based upon his disabled and, therefore impecunious,
condition, (the very thing insured against) exacerbated by [the
insurer's] malicious and bad faith refusal to pay plaintiff's
- In Hernandez v. General Adjustment Bureau (1988) 199
Cal.App.3d 999, a sales clerk submitted a claim for worker's
compensation benefits, based upon the psychological harm caused by
crimes committed at the convenience store in which she had worked. The
employee gave the insurance adjuster "medical records and reports
detailing her serious medical and psychiatric problems which included
major depression, nightmares, anxiety and repeated suicide attempts."
(Id. at p. 1002.) The claimant alleged the adjuster knew of her fragile
emotional condition, and that she provided the sole economic support
for her three children. Despite this knowledge, and the lack of any
dispute as to the claimant's entitlement to benefits, the adjuster
consistently delayed disability payments. Based on these allegations,
the trial court concluded the plaintiff stated a valid cause of action for
intentional infliction of emotional distress.
- Kinnamon v. Staitman & Snyder (1977) 66 Cal.App.3d 893, the
plaintiff in Kinnamon filed a complaint against four defendants,
alleging that three of the defendants were California attorneys
retained by the fourth defendant to assist him in collecting payment of
a $250 check that plaintiff had given to the defendant and that had
been dishonored for insufficient funds. The attorneys sent
Kinnamon a letter in an attempt to collect the debt. The letter advised
plaintiff that "to issue a check with insufficient funds to cover said
check is a misdemeanor," but did not inform her that fraudulent intent
was also an element of the crime. The court held
that the conduct alleged in the complaint, if true, violated former
Rule 7-104 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct, which
prohibited attorneys from making threats of criminal prosecution to
gain advantage in a civil proceeding. On that basis, the court
concluded that the behavior was "of such an extreme nature as to be
- Mahon v. Craig (2009) 176 Cal.App.4th 1502, the court rejected an attempt to
allege intentional infliction of emotional distress against a
veterinarian who tried to hide the fact her negligent treatment of the
plaintiff's dog resulted in the animal's death. The defendant had no intent to injure the plaintiff's dog, but rather
intentionally tried to cover up her liability for the animal's death.
- Hughes v. Pair (2009) 46 Cal.4th 1035 (Plaintiff did not establish
the elements of extreme or outrageous conduct by defendant or that
plaintiff suffered severe or extreme emotional distress. Given
plaintiff's 5+ years of legal battles with defendant and the two other
trustees regarding their trust fund allocation, defendant's
inappropriate comments (of a vulgar and sexual nature) fall far short
of conduct that is so "outrageous" that it "exceeds all bounds of that
usually tolerated in a civilized community." Additionally, plaintiff's
assertions that she has suffered discomfort, worry, anxiety, upset
stomach, concern, and agitation as the result of defendant's comments
to her on the telephone at the museum do not comprise "emotional
distress of such substantial quality or enduring quality that no
reasonable person in civilized society should be expected to endure
- Moncada v. West Coast Quartz Corp. (2013) 221 Cal.App.4th 768,
780-781: (“Here, the allegations in the first amended complaint consist
of defendants misleading plaintiffs into believing they would be
compensated in an amount that would allow them to retire if they
continued to work for West Coast until the company was sold. While the
allegations of defendants' conduct, if true, demonstrate a callous
disregard for plaintiffs' professional and personal well-being, the
alleged conduct as stated is not extreme or outrageous to support a
cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress.”).
- So v. Shin (2013) 212 Cal.App.4th 652, 672-673: (“…plaintiff here had
recently undergone surgery; indeed, …plaintiff was not only still in
the hospital — she was in the recovery room. Further, plaintiff had
recently miscarried, had required a procedure to remove the dead fetus
from her uterus, and claimed to have awakened during the procedure.
Under these circumstances, a trier of fact "may well draw the
conclusion that she was in all probability vulnerable" …and, …that Dr.
Shin unquestionably knew of plaintiff's physical state. Moreover, a
reasonable juror could conclude that forcing a patient who had recently
miscarried to look at what she believed to be her dismembered fetus was
extreme and outrageous. Accordingly, the trial court erred in
concluding that Dr. Shin's conduct was not extreme or outrageous as a
matter of law.”).
- McCoy v. Pacific Maritime Association (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 283:
(Appellant also argues the evidence underlying her retaliation claim is
sufficient to meet the conduct element of her intentional infliction of
emotional distress claim…[A]ppellant's argument fails as to the
intentional infliction claim. A "series of subtle, yet damaging,
injuries" is sufficient to constitute retaliation; however, it does not
necessarily rise to the "extreme and outrageous" standard required for
an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. (Yanowitz v.
L'Oreal USA, Inc. (2005) 36 Cal.4th 1028, 1055… Although appellant
claimed she was faced with continued isolation and ostracism, we
conclude respondents' conduct did not go "beyond all bounds of
- Wilson v. Southern California Edison Co. (2015) 234 Cal.App.4th 123:
(Defendant Southern California Edison Company (Edison) appeals from a
judgment following a jury trial in which the jury found in favor of
plaintiff Simona Wilson on her claims for intentional infliction of
emotional distress (IIED), etc. based upon her allegation that Edison
failed to properly supervise, secure, operate, maintain, or control the
electrical substation next door to plaintiff's house (the Topaz
substation), allowing uncontrolled stray electrical currents to enter
the home. In short, the evidence presented at trial showed that
Edison believed it had eliminated the potential for shocks…in 1998 to
1999. When it received a report of shocks five or six years later, it
responded by installing a common neutral system, which appeared to fix
the problem. When it received reports of electricity at Wilson's gas
meter several years later, it responded by working with the gas company
to find a solution and paying for the installation of isolators on all
of the gas service lines in the neighborhood. Finally, when it received
the report that Wilson was experiencing an electrical current in her
newly remodeled shower, Edison came to the house, took measurements to
determine the level of electricity was not dangerous, explained how the
current could be eliminated by installing isolators or bonding the
fixture and the drain, and offered to pay for the installation of the
isolators. This evidence is insufficient to establish that Edison's
conduct was "so extreme as to exceed all bounds of that usually
tolerated in a civilized community." Therefore, the judgment in favor
of Wilson on her IIED claim must be reversed.)
- Faunce v. Cate (2013) 222 Cal.App.4th 166: (“Here, Faunce's
intentional infliction of emotional distress claim is premised on
defendants' practice of acting based on institutional policies and
procedures…[and] amounted to outrageous conduct. However, we agree with
the trial court's implied conclusion that a policy requiring the
presence of a correctional officer when a convicted murderer is
examined by a prison physician who has expressed safety concerns does
not amount to outrageous conduct. Accordingly, Faunce has not stated a
valid claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
Severe Emotional Distress:
- Carlsen v. Koivumaki (2014) 227 Cal.App.4th 879: (“…[T]he "conduct"
we are concerned with here is bringing Jason, highly intoxicated, to
the cliffside and delaying in reporting his fall. Assuming for
argument's sake that such conduct was outrageous, Jason has no memory
of it. He does not recall being at the Bluffs, much less his fall or
waiting for help to arrive. Accordingly, Sarah's conduct could not be
the actual and proximate cause of any mental distress he has suffered.
In other words, a jury could not reasonably conclude that Jason
suffered mental distress as a result of Sarah's conduct when he has no
memory of that conduct. Accordingly, summary adjudication was properly
entered as to the intentional infliction of emotional distress cause of
- Bikkina v. Mahadevan
(2015) 241 Cal. App. 4th 70, 88-89: (“Bikkina
has provided sufficient evidence to survive a motion to strike that his
distress was severe and enduring. Bikkina's declaration stated that
Mahadevan's "campaign" against him had brought great stress to himself
and his family. It caused him to begin clenching his teeth to such a
degree that he had broken two teeth requiring dental implants. He had
ongoing stomach problems and chest pains requiring him to visit a
hospital. He was also suffering from insomnia. Bikkina was fearful that
he would lose his job and concerned that Mahadevan would contact his
new employer, Oklahoma State University. Mahadevan's "erratic" behavior
also caused him and his wife to fear for their physical safety.”
[In this] "anti-SLAPP-suit motion…Bikkina has made a sufficient
prima facie showing of intentional infliction of emotional distress."
- Grenier v. Taylor (2015) 234 Cal.App.4th 471, 477: (A claim of
intentional infliction of emotional distress brought by a pastor who
was accused by the defendants of drug dealing and child molestation in
Internet posts survived an anti-SLAPP motion to strike. There was
evidence in opposition to the motion that the comments "ruined" the
reputations of the pastor and his wife and they feared for their
physical safety such that they did not want to leave their residence,
and even considered moving away so they could continue with a life of
anonymity. The court concluded the defendants' actions were more than
mere insults, threats, or annoyances).
- Wong v. Jing (2010) 189 Cal.App.4th 1354, 1376-1377: (In Wong, the
court found that a professional dispute which arose between the parents
of a patient and the patient's dentist did not involve severe emotional
distress. The plaintiff dentist had experienced loss of sleep,
stomach upset and generalized anxiety. (Ibid.) The court held this
minimal showing did not reflect severe or enduring emotional distress).
Workers' Compensation Exclusion:
- Singh v. Southland Stone, U.S.A., Inc. (2010) 186 Cal.App.4th 338,
366-367.; [workers' compensation exclusivity rule barred [denied] intentional
infliction of emotional distress claim where employer "berated and
humiliated [plaintiff], criticized his job performance, and insulted
him with profanities on a regular basis"].
- SA v. Maiden (2014) 229 Cal.App.4th 27, 443-44: (“S.A. has not
established there is a probability he will prevail on his IIED cause of
action. The gravamen of his IIED claim is that N.A. and her attorney,
Maiden, intentionally initiated and maintained meritless DVPA
restraining order proceedings with an intent to cause him emotional
distress and that such conduct was extreme and outrageous. However, as
many cases have concluded, the litigation privilege under Civil Code
section 47, subdivision (b), bars IIED claims arising out of litigation
conduct. (See, e.g., Komarova v. National Credit Acceptance, Inc.
(2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 324, 341…; Civil Code section 47, subdivision
(b), protects communications made "[i]n any ... judicial proceeding."
In this case, because the alleged wrongful conduct did "not involve any
action outside of ordinary court proceedings [citation] calculated to
humiliate or inflict emotional distress"…, the litigation privilege
under Civil Code section 47, subdivision (b), applies to bar S.A.'s
IIED cause of action against Maiden. S.A. has not established there is
a probability he will prevail on his IIED cause of action.”
IIED Statute of Limitations: Because intentional infliction of emotional distress is an injury to the
person, the applicable statute of limitations is two years (Code of Civil Procedure § 335.1). A cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress
accrues, and the statute of limitations begins to run, once the
plaintiff suffers severe emotional distress as a result of outrageous
conduct on the part of the defendant. (Murphy v. Allstate Ins. Co. (1978) 83 Cal. App.3d 38, 50-51).
Go to Home Page