The determination of whether words or conduct are actionable in character is to be made on an objective rather than subjective standard, from common acceptation. The unwarranted intrusion must be calculated to cause "severe emotional distress" to a person of ordinary sensibilities, in the absence of special knowledge or notice.
Plaintiff, while shopping in defendant's store, inquired as to the price of an item and was insulted by defendant's employee. The insulting language allegedly caused plaintiff to suffer mental suffering or emotional distress, and an ensuing heart attack and aggravation of pre-existing heart disease. Plaintiff initiated suit for damages arising from insult, and alleged, in the alternative, that the language was used in a malicious or grossly reckless manner, or with intent to inflict great mental and emotional disturbance to plaintiff. On defendant's motion, the trial court dismissed plaintiff's suit for failure to state a cause of action, as plaintiff's jurisdiction did not recognize an independent tort action for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The case was appealed.
Can insults hold the offender liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress that are not meant to cause serious effect?
The court declined to recognize the existence of the new tort, an independent cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and thus ruled that plaintiff's cause was properly dismissed.