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Richardson v. Hennly - 209 Ga. App. 868, 434 S.E.2d 772 (1993)

Rule:

The issue of whether the conduct alleged is sufficiently extreme or outrageous to support recovery presents a question of law for the trial court. Factors which may contribute to outrageousness and egregiousness include the existence of a special relationship in which one person has control over another; the actor's awareness of the victim's particular susceptibility; and the severity of the harm resulting from the conduct. Some claims will be found not to rise to the requisite level of outrageousness and egregiousness as a matter of law. Others, in which it is shown that reasonable persons could differ as to whether the conduct was sufficiently outrageous and egregious, must be decided by a jury. 

Facts:

Bonnie Richardson filed suit in three counts against her former employer, First Federal Savings & Loan Association of Valdosta, Inc., alleging violation of the Georgia Equal Employment for the Handicapped Code, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional harm. She also named as a defendant her former co-worker, J. R. Hennly, Jr., against whom she alleged claims of battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and interference with contractual relations. Richardson had been working as a receptionist at First Federal for a number of years when Hennly, an administrative officer, began working at her branch. Richardson's work station was in the lobby of First Federal, and Hennly worked in an office approximately 30 feet from her desk. Hennly had been a pipe smoker for a number of years, and continued to smoke his pipe at work. Richardson immediately began to have difficulty with Hennly's pipe smoke, to which she apparently had an allergic reaction that caused nausea, stomach pain, loss of appetite, loss of weight, headaches, and anxiety. She discussed this problem with her superiors, and several air purifiers were purchased, which were placed in the interior of Hennly's office and adjacent to his door. For a time Hennly switched to cigarettes, which did not bother Richardson as much, but he resumed smoking his pipe, stating that he wished to avoid becoming addicted to cigarettes. Richardson was twice hospitalized because of her adverse reactions. Shortly after Richardson returned to work from her second hospitalization, her employment was terminated, primarily for excessive absenteeism. At trial, both defendants moved for summary judgment, and their motions were heard separately by different judges. Hennly's motion was granted as to the claims of battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress and denied as to the claim of interference with contractual relations. First Federal's motion was denied. 

Issue:

 Was summary judgment in favor of defendant co-worker Hennly proper?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the denial of summary judgment to the employer, and the court reversed the grant of summary judgment to the co-worker, Hennly. The court held that 1) summary judgment to the co-worker on a battery claim was improper because the cause of action would lie ,even in the absence of direct physical contact with the employee, and the pipe smoke was capable of making contact with the employee; 2) the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on a claim against the co-worker for infliction of emotional harm because a reasonable person could find that the co-worker's conduct was outrageous and egregious, and a jury must determine that question; and 3) the trial court properly rejected the employer's contention that the employee failed to meet the definition of a "handicapped individual" under Ga. Code Ann. § 34-6A-1 et seq., because the employee's impairment caused her to experience difficulty in working and retaining her employment.

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