Law School Case Brief
Contreras v. Crown Zellerbach Corp. - 88 Wash. 2d 735, 565 P.2d 1173 (1977)
When analyzing the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress, the distress must be inflicted intentionally or recklessly; mere negligence is not enough. It is not enough that a defendant acts with an intent which is tortious or even criminal, or that intends to inflict emotional distress, or even that his conduct is characterized by malice, or a degree of aggravation which would entitle the plaintiff to punitive damages for another tort. Conduct must be 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.
David Contreras and his wife brought five causes of action against his employer, Crown Zellerbach Corporation alleging abusive and improper conduct of Crown Zellerbach's employees and supervisory personnel. He argued that the employer's conduct was intentional or reckless, and so extreme that it was beyond all reasonable bounds of decency. Crown Zellerbach moved to dismiss the first claim for relief, which is premised upon the tort of outrage, for failure to state a claim. The trial court believed that the tort of outrage was limited to third-person situations only and granted the motion to dismiss. Contreras appealed.
Could Contreras recover first claim for relief under the tort of outrage?
The Court held that Contreras, as the victim of the outrageous conduct, could also recover under the tort of outrage. The trier of fact determined, taking into account changing social conditions and the employee's own susceptibility, whether the particular conduct was sufficient to constitute extreme outrage as to permit recovery. Contreras’ claim that he was subjected to intentional or reckless conduct, which caused him severe emotional distress, was within the parameters of the tort of outrage. Contreras was subjected to acts of intimidation, demotions, humiliation in public and exposure to scorn and ridicule, and Crown Zellerbach Corporation's agents knew or should have known that by reason of Contreras’ nationality and background he was particularly susceptible to emotional distress.
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