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The tort of outrage or the intentional infliction of emotional distress: One who by extreme and outrageous conduct intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to another is subject to liability for such emotional distress, and if bodily harm to the other results from it, for such bodily harm.
Judy Taylor ("Taylor") was the owner of two registered Appaloosa horses, nicknamed Poco and P.J. Taylor had owned Poco for 14 years (since he was a foal) and P.J. for 13 years (since her birth). Taylor loved Poco and P.J. as if they were her "children." Taylor and others testified that the horses were gentle and affectionate, and, having spent their entire lives together, were inseparable. After Taylor and her husband separated in 1994, Taylor remained at the marital residence where the horses lived, and she assumed sole responsibility for their care. When she became physically incapable of doing so, she found the Burgesses, who would pasture the horses and let appellee visit them. Within a week, the Burgesses called a known slaughter-buyer, to sell the two horses for a total of $ 1,000.00. When Taylor went to visit the horses, the Burgesses lied. Taylor, with the aid of a humane investigator had found the truth and sued the Burgesses.
Could the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress apply to the conversion and slaughter of pet horses?
The appellate court opined that the conduct of the offender rather than the subject of the conduct determined whether the conduct was outrageous. The Court opined that Taylor presented sufficient evidence of the required elements in order to recover under the tort of outrage. First, it was clear that the Burgesses' conduct was reckless in that they intended their specific conduct and either knew or should have known that emotional distress would result. Brewer, 15 S.W.3d at 6. Lisa Burgess admitted that she never had any intentions of keeping Poco and P.J. She sold P.J. and Poco to Eugene Jackson, a known-slaughter buyer, shortly after she acquired them. Further, the jury heard testimony from Kenny Randolph that the Burgesses told him that they had sold the horses to Eugene Jackson to go to slaughter, and that the Burgesses had asked him to lie for them so Taylor would not find out what they had done. There was significant evidence that the Burgesses were aware of Taylor's feelings for Poco and P.J., and hence, knew or should have known that emotional distress would result from their selling them to a slaughter-buyer. Second, the Burgesses' conduct clearly rises to the level of being outrageous and intolerable in that it offends generally accepted standards of decency and morality, certainly a situation "in which 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!'." Third, the sale of Poco and P.J. by the Burgesses to a known slaughter-buyer satisfied the requirement of a causal connection between the Burgesses' conduct and the emotional distress. Further, the Burgesses' subsequent lies precluded Taylor from locating and saving her horses before they were slaughtered. Additionally, contrary to the Burgesses' assertions, we conclude sufficient evidence was presented from which the jury could properly infer that Poco and P.J. were, in fact, slaughtered. Finally, the evidence indicated that Taylor suffered severe emotional distress. Taylor testified that when she learned what had happened to Poco and P.J., she broke down, knowing that "my babies were dead." Since then she has suffered from many panic attacks, and has had major problems with high blood pressure for which she must receive medical care. She suffers from anxiety and depression, for which she takes medication, and has had many thoughts of suicide. She described overwhelming feelings of loss and failure. She testified she has trouble sleeping and has recurring nightmares in which she hears Poco's scream in her head. Taylor testified that she has sought help from her doctor and social workers but cannot get over what happened. Having reviewed the evidence in the light most favorable to Taylor, the Court believed that the jury verdict was supported by sufficient evidence.