Personal Injury Law

What is Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress in Virginia?

This is a summary of intentional infliction of emotional distress, a tort in Virginia.  The law in Virginia is not meant to address merely rude behavior.

However Virginia law does recognize the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress.  The Virginia Supreme Court recognized this intentional tort as a cause of action in Womack v. Eldridge, 215 Va. 338, 210 S.E.2d 145 (1974). There, the court held that the tort has four elements that must be proved: 1) the wrongdoer’s conduct was intentional or reckless; 2) the conduct was outrageous or intolerable; 3) there was a causal connection between the wrongdoer’s conduct and the resulting emotional distress; and 4) the resulting emotional distress was severe. Id. at 342, 210 S.E.2d at 148; accord, Harris, 271 Va. at 203, 624 S.E.2d at 33; Delk, 259 Va. at 136, 523 S.E.2d at 833; Jordan v. Shands, 255 Va. 492, 498-99, 500 S.E.2d 215, 218-19 (1998). Almy v. Grisham, 273 Va. 68, 80 (Va. 2007)

Because of problems inherent in proving a tort alleging injury to the mind or emotions in the absence of accompanying physical injury, the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress is “not favored” in the law. Harris, 271 Va. at 203-04, 624 S.E.2d at 33; Russo, 241 Va. at 26, 400 S.E.2d at 162; Ruth v. Fletcher, 237 Va. 366, 373, 377 S.E.2d 412, 415-16, 5 Va. Law Rep. 1915 (1989). Thus, in contrast to a claim of negligence, a plaintiff alleging a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress must allege in his complaint all facts necessary to establish the cause of action in order to withstand challenge on demurrer. Harris, 271 Va. at 204, 624 S.E.2d at 33; Russo, 241 Va. at 28, 400 S.E.2d at 163.

The term “outrageous” does not objectively describe particular acts but instead represents an evaluation of behavior. Russo, 241 Va. at 26, 400 S.E.2d at 162.  The issue is whether reasonable persons could view the conduct alleged, if proved, as being “so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.” See Russo, 241 Va. at 27, 400 S.E.2d at 162 (quoting  Ruth, 237 Va. at 368, 377 S.E.2d at 413). When reasonable persons could view alleged conduct in this manner and the other elements of the tort are properly pleaded, the controversy must be resolved at a trial on the merits of the claim, rather than by a circuit court on demurrer. See Burroughs v. Keffer, 272 Va. 162, 168, 630 S.E.2d 297, 301 (2006); Chapman v. City of Virginia Beach, 252 Va. 186, 191, 475 S.E.2d 798, 804 (1996); Womack, 215 Va. at 342, 210 S.E.2d at 148.

There must be a causal connection between the conduct and the distress.

There must be severe emotional distress, for example, several debilitating conditions, including depression, nervousness, and an inability to sleep, which ultimately caused a complete disintegration of virtually every aspect of one’s life requiring treatment.



The materials are prepared for information purposes only.  The materials are not legal advice and you should not act upon the information without seeking the advice of an attorney.  Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship.