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Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. McCarson - 467 So. 2d 277 (Fla. 1985)

Rule:

It is not enough that a defendant acted with an intent which is tortious or even criminal, or that he intended to inflict emotional distress, or even that his conduct can be characterized by "malice," or a degree of aggravation which would entitle a plaintiff to punitive damages for another tort. Liability is found only where the conduct is 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. 

Facts:

Mr. McCarson was issued a group insurance policy by Metropolitan Life which covered employees of his paint and body shop, including his wife. The next year, Mrs. McCarson became incapacitated with Alzheimer's disease. Metropolitan stopped payment of benefits for her, claiming that the condition had been preexisting and that the failure to disclose it voided her coverage. McCarson brought suit. Metropolitan was found to be in breach of contract and ordered to provide coverage pursuant to the contract. Later it became necessary for Mrs. McCarson to have round-the-clock nursing, for which Metropolitan was liable under the terms of its contract until the policy lapsed or Mrs. McCarson became eligible for Medicare. After requesting proof of ineligibility for Medicare, and receiving no response, Metropolitan eventually discontinued payments and the round-the-clock nursing ceased. McCarson brought suit to enforce the policy provisions, but in the meantime, Mrs. McCarson was removed from her home and placed in a total care nursing facility where her condition deteriorated remarkably. A few months later she died of a heart attack. Medical testimony indicated that the stress of her new surroundings probably brought about her demise. McCarson amended his original complaint and, as Lucille's personal representative, added a count for wrongful death on the theory that Metropolitan's failure to fulfill the terms of the contract had been a willful infliction of emotional distress upon Mrs. McCarson which had thereby caused her death. A jury awarded McCarson medical costs, $200,000 for the emotional distress suffered by Mrs. McCarson, and $250,000 for her wrongful death. The trial court struck the award for Mrs. McCarson's emotional distress but upheld the remainder of the award. Metropolitan appealed but the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the award, finding a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress sufficient to support the cause of action for wrongful death.

Issue:

In the survivor husband's action against the insurer for breach of contract, bad faith dealing, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful death, was the insurer liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress after it discontinued coverage of in-home nursing care and the survivor's wife died of a heart attack when she was sent to a nursing home?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Florida reversed the judgment in favor of the survivor, but affirmed the ruling that recognized intentional infliction of emotional distress as a cause of action against an insurer in Florida. Because the insurer merely asserted its legal rights under the policy, its conduct could not be characterized as outrageous in character, so it was not subject to the emotional distress claim. Therefore, the Court quashed the decision of the district court insofar as it held that he wife had a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress sufficient to support the survivor's suit for wrongful death.Further, the survivor did not have a cause of action for breach of contract because no benefits were payable directly to the wife, so she would not have had a breach of contract claim.

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