In an action for recovery for mental pain and anguish, when the wrongful act is such as to reasonably imply malice, or when, from the entire want of care of attention to duty, or great indifference to the persons, property, or rights of others, such malice will be imputed as would justify the assessment of exemplary or punitive damages.
Plaintiff Korbin, a six-year-old girl, through her guardian and next friend, brought an action against defendant Berlin alleging that Berlin willfully and maliciously approached her and told her that her mother took a man away from his wife, that the man was sleeping in her mother's room, and that God was going to punish them. It was alleged that the statements were knowingly false and were made for the purpose of causing the child undue emotional stress, mental pain, and anguish. The trial court of Florida dismissed Korbin’s amended complaint. Korbin, through her guardian and next friend, appealed.
Did the trial court err in dismissing Korbin’s complaint?
The Court held that it was error to dismiss Korbin's complaint for failure to state a cause of action. Although there could be no recovery for mental pain and anguish unconnected with physical injury in an action arising out of the negligent breach of a contract involving simple negligence, this was not such a case. Here, the action was founded purely in tort, where the alleged wrongful act was such as to reasonably imply malice or "great indifference" to the rights of others. Further, it could not be said as a matter of law that this alleged deliberately harmful act was not one calculated to cause "severe emotional distress" to a child of ordinary sensibilities.