![if gte IE 9]><![endif]><![if gte IE 9]><![endif]><![if gte IE 9]><![endif]>
Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
When the acts of the defendant are so horrible, so atrocious and so barbaric that no civilized person could be expected to endure them without suffering mental distress, the jury may find as a matter of fact that severe emotional distress resulted. In appropriate cases, severe emotional distress may be inferred from the extreme and outrageous nature of the defendant's conduct alone. Severe distress must be proved; but in many cases the extreme and outrageous character of the defendant's conduct is in itself important evidence that the distress has existed.
John Matthew Reagan sexually abused his stepdaughter Glenda Ann Rider for six years, beginning when she was 11 and ending when she left home to live with her father. During trial, Rider testified that these experiences caused her to suffer extreme embarrassment, humiliation, mortification and depression, and caused her to gain weight to the point of obesity. The pattern of sexual abuse prevented her from forming normal personal relationships and caused her to engage in what she felt were improper and unusual sexual activities. Dr. Michael K. Spodak, a forensic and clinical psychiatrist, whose qualification as an expert witness was conceded, testified that Rider first came to him in April of 1982. She had a number of ongoing psychological conflicts. She was "mistrustful" of other people, especially men, and seemed to have no ability to form any "lasting interpersonal relationships." She suffered from a lack of self-confidence, "low self-image and low self-esteem." Rider sued Reagan for assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy. All counts except the intentional infliction of emotional distress were dismissed either prior to or during the trial. That count was submitted to the jury, resulting in a verdict for Rider in the amount of $ 28,845 ($ 18,845 compensatory damages and $ 10,000 punitive damages).
Did the district court err in denying Reagan’s motion for judgment on the ground that Rider failed sufficiently prove the severity of emotional distress?
Reagan argued that Moniodis v. Cook requires that the plaintiff prove she is completely disabled before she can recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Here, he argued that Rider must show that the emotional distress is so severe that she is unable to participate in the normal activities of the daily routine of life. In particular, he argued that because Rider was able to attend college and survive on her own, she necessarily could not be suffering from severe emotional distress.
As the Court of Appeals said in Harris v. Jones, the four elements of the tort must coalesce, i.e., unite, combine or blend into a single body. The court does not consider them each separately and independently from the others. Reagan has conceded, as indeed he must, that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find his conduct intentional or reckless. He intended his specific conduct and knew or should have known that emotional distress would likely result. He conceded, as indeed he must, that the jury could find his conduct extreme and outrageous in that it offends against the generally accepted standards of decency and morality. The testimony of Rider and Dr. Spodak was sufficient to establish causation. From the very nature of the outrageous conduct -- sexual molestation of a child by a person in a position of authority and trust during six of her more critical formative years; and from the intensity and duration of the emotional distress -- a severe depression deteriorating over a three-year period and requiring an additional two years of therapy, the jury could properly find that the emotional distress was severe.