Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress in Virginia

Plaintiffs in defamation, insulting words, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and other kinds of lawsuits in which no physical injuries are alleged will frequently add a count to their complaint for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). This choice may better reflect their attorney’s desire to be thorough and pursue every potential cause of action rather than any confidence in its chance to succeed on the merits, or even to overcome the inevitable demurrer. In the view of the Supreme Court of Virginia “there are inherent problems in proving a claim alleging injury to the mind or emotions in the absence of accompanying physical injury,” and the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress is not favored.[1] Without a physical injury, a plaintiff can only rarely recover for IIED. This article uses case examples to demonstrate what elements the Supreme Court of Virginia has held the plaintiff must prove in order to recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress. A cause of action for IIED, unaccompanied by physical injury, will lie when: One, the wrongdoer’s conduct was intentional or reckless. This element is satisfied where the wrongdoer had the specific purpose of inflicting emotional distress or where he intended his specific conduct and knew or should have known that emotional distress would likely result. Two, the conduct was outrageous and intolerable in that it offends against the generally accepted standards of decency and morality. This requirement is aimed at limiting frivolous suits and avoiding litigation in situations where only bad manners and mere hurt feelings are involved. Three, there was a causal connection between the wrongdoer’s conduct and the...