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Bringing a Claim for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress in Pennsylvania

When someone’s conduct results in severe emotional trauma to another person, that person can pursue a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. This is a tort claim and requires proof of certain elements in order for the victim to recover compensation from the person who harmed them.  Generally, it is important to understand that not all wrongful conduct leads to a tort for emotional distress.  Rude or offensive conduct is not usually accountable, but conduct that would be considered reprehensible or outrageous may provide for recovery.

Pennsylvania law requires that victims pursuing a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress show the conduct was intentional, extreme, and outrageous, the conduct caused emotional distress, and that distress was severe.  This is in accordance with the Restatement (Second) of Torts, although the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has stated this section of the Restatement has not been formally adopted.  In fact, a case before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2000 helped to clarify the requirements for victims bringing a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In the case of Taylor v. Albert Einstein Medical Center, No. 33 E.D. Appeal Docket 1999, slip op. (May 17, 2000) (Flaherty, C.J.), the court rejected the jury’s finding that the plaintiff had suffered intentional infliction of emotional distress regarding the death of her 16-year-old daughter, due to an improperly performed catheterization.  First, the court stated that a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress is recognized within the state.  Much like a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, the injury must have taken place in the presence of the person at whom the conduct has been directed. In other words, the victim of the intentional infliction of emotional distress must be present when the incident takes place.

In that specific situation, the mother had not been in the same hospital room when her daughter’s procedure was performed.  According to the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 46(2), distress caused by wrongful conduct directed at a third person requires “presence.” The law states that immediate family members who are “present at the time” of the conduct can recover for intentional emotional distress.   In the case before the Supreme Court, they found that the mother had been in a hospital waiting room and had not learned of the outrageous conduct until later. Since she was not present during the procedure and did not observe the conduct, she was not entitled to recover under § 46(2) for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The court emphasized that much like a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, the emotional injury must have taken place while the person (at whom the conduct was intended) was present.  According to the court, a person who learns of the harm later, from a third party, has been “buffered” against the full impact that comes with observation and presence.  In comparison, a relative who observes tortious conduct will not have time to “brace” their emotional system.

At Needle Law Firm, we bring compassionate legal representation to our clients, helping them understand the process of filing a legal claim for their injuries and suffering.  Our personal injury attorneys represent people throughout Pennsylvania in their claims for compensation following an accident.  Contact our firm today to discuss your claim with a skilled attorney. We offer a free consultation and can be reached by calling 570-344-1266 or using our online form.

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