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Miller v. Willbanks - 8 S.W.3d 607 (Tenn. 1999)


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 results from it, for such bodily harm. In an action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff's burden to prove that the offending conduct was outrageous is an exacting standard requiring the plaintiff to show that the defendant's conduct was 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. Such conduct is important evidence that the distress has existed, and from such conduct more reliable indicia of a severe mental injury may arise.


Plaintiffs, Wayne Miller and Elizabeth Ann Miller, sued defendants Dr. Willbanks, Pediatric Associates, Inc., and Morristown-Hamblen Hospital Association, for the intentional infliction of emotional distress arising from Dr. Willbanks’ assertion that the Millers’ newborn child suffered from drug withdrawal syndrome, subsequently disproved by drug tests. Defendants moved for dismissal or summary judgment, which the trial court granted due to the Millers’ lack of necessary expert evidence supporting their claims of serious mental injury. An intermediate appellate court affirmed. Appellants-plaintiffs sought further review.


Were plaintiff parents required to present expert medical or scientific proof of serious mental injury to maintain their claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress against defendants physician and hospital?




In reversing, the state's highest court ruled that expert medical or scientific proof of a serious mental injury was generally not required to maintain an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. However, other forms of proof could also be used, including a claimant's testimony, testimony of other lay witnesses acquainted with the claimant, and physical manifestations of emotional distress. Although not legally required, expert testimony may be the most effective method of demonstrating the existence of severe emotional distress. The court reversed the lower courts' judgments and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.



The court explained that because its review here concerned only a question of law, the trial court's judgment was not presumed correct, and thus the court's review was de novo on the record before it.

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