There are four elements of a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress: (i) extreme and outrageous conduct; (ii) intent to cause, or disregard of a substantial probability of causing, severe emotional distress; (iii) a causal connection between the conduct and injury; and (iv) severe emotional distress. Liability has been found only where the conduct has been 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.
Decedent was brought into the emergency room of defendant hospital after he had been hit by a vehicle. While decedent was being treated, employees of defendant ABC News were in the hospital, with the hospital's knowledge and permission, filming a documentary series about medical trauma and the professionals who attend to the patients suffering from such trauma. No one informed decedent or any of the individual plaintiffs that a camera crew was present and filming, nor was their consent obtained for filming or for the crew's presence. Less than an hour after decedent arrived at the Hospital, defendant doctor declared him dead. That declaration was filmed by ABC, and decedent's prior treatment was apparently filmed as well. The doctor then informed the family of decedent's death, with that moment also being recorded without their knowledge. Sixteen months later, decedent's widow saw the episode on television. She then told the other plaintiffs, who also watched the episode. This was the first time plaintiffs became aware of the recording of decedent's medical treatment and death. Plaintiffs commenced action against the defendant hospital, doctor and news channel. Defendants separately moved to dismiss the complaint. The Supreme Court partially granted the motions, dismissing all causes of action except breach of physician-patient confidentiality against the hospital and doctor, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against all defendants. Defendants separately appealed the order insofar as the motions to dismiss were denied. Plaintiffs did not cross-appeal. The Appellate Division modified the Supreme Court's order by reversing the portions of the order that were appealed, granted the motions in their entirety and dismissed the entire complaint. That Court granted plaintiffs leave to appeal.
Did plaintiff's have cause of action for their claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress?
The actions of defendants, a broadcasting network, a hospital, and a treating physician, in filming or allowing the filming, without consent, of a patient's treatment and death in an emergency room and broadcasting the footage were not so extreme and outrageous as to support an IIED claim by the patient's family members, as the episode did not include the patient's name, his image was blurred, and less than three minutes were devoted to him; However, the complaint sufficiently stated a cause of action against the hospital and physician for breach of physician-patient confidentiality in violation of CPLR 4504(a); that the patient was not identifiable on the episode aired on television was immaterial, as the complaint also alleged an improper disclosure of medical information to the network employees who filmed and edited the recording.