Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
The elements of an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim are that the defendant's conduct was: (1) intentional or reckless, (2) so outrageous that it is not tolerated by civilized society, and (3) resulted in serious mental injury to the plaintiff. Since Doe 1 was decided, there has been some confusion and inconsistency regarding whether reckless infliction of emotional distress is a separate and distinct tort from intentional infliction of emotional distress. The state's highest court has observed numerous times that intentional infliction of emotional distress can be proven by a showing of either reckless or intentional behavior. This approach is consistent with the Restatement (Second) of Torts and the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Liability for Physical and Emotional Harm § 45 (Tentative Draft No. 5, 2007). Although Doe 1 makes it clear that the analysis differs somewhat when the claimant alleges reckless conduct, it does not expressly hold that reckless infliction of emotional distress is a separate tort.
Rondal Douglas Akers III (the "Deceased") died at the age of thirty-four on November 23, 2001, following a brief illness. His parents, Dr. Rondal D. Akers, Jr., and Lucinda Akers, made funeral arrangements with Buckner-Rush Funeral Home in Cleveland, Tennessee. Although Dr. and Mrs. Akers were opposed to having their son's body cremated, they authorized and arranged for the cremation in accordance with his expressed wishes. After their son's funeral service, his body was transported to Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Georgia, for cremation. Later, the Akerses received what was purported to be their son's cremains (the "Cremains"). Subsequently, it was discovered that Mr. Marsh had not been cremating bodies that were sent to Tri-State for cremation, but rather burying or dumping the bodies in various places on the Tri-State property. The Akerses sued Mr. Marsh for the alleged mishandling of their deceased son's body. Following a jury verdict for the Akerses, the trial court entered judgment against Mr. Marsh based on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim but granted his motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the Akerses' Tennessee Consumer Protection Act ("TCPA") and bailment claims. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
Did the trial court err in denying Mr. Marsh's motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict ("JNOV") or for a new trial on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim?
The state's highest court held that the reckless infliction of emotional distress claim properly went to the jury. The jury was properly instructed on intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). The IIED verdict was supported by sufficient evidence. The mortician pled guilty to criminal simulation under Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-115 (1989) with regard to the son's body. The jury was properly permitted to draw an adverse inference from the mortician's invocation of the Fifth Amendment, U.S. Const. amend. V, to particular questions during his deposition. A video showed the mortician pointing to a body and identifying it with the son's last name. Although the body was not the son's, the video showed the mortician believed he did not fully cremate the son's body. Metal objects were found in the cremains that did not belong to the son, and fewer ashes were returned to the parents than there should have been. The guilty plea to criminal simulation was independent evidence that the mortician mishandled the son's body. The TCPA claim failed as a person's cremains did not have the tangible economic value required. The bailment claim failed as a corpse was not personalty.