The jury is ordinarily in a better position to determine whether outrageous conduct results in mental distress than whether that distress in turn results in physical injury. From their own experience jurors are aware of the extent and character of the disagreeable emotions that may result from the defendant's conduct, but a difficult medical question is presented when it must be determined if emotional distress resulted in physical injury.
Defendant obtained a contract for garbage collection from a customer who previously had contracted with a member of the garbage collector association. Association members threatened defendant and forced him to join the association and sign promissory notes to compensate the member who lost the account. When the defendant failed to pay, the association sued on the promissory notes. Defendant filed a counterclaim for assault by the members who threatened him. A jury verdict was returned in defendant's favor on both claims, and the association moved for a new trial. The court denied the motion with defendant's agreement to a reduction in damages. Plaintiff appealed.
Did the association's actions constitute assault?
The court affirmed the judgment, ruling that defendant had established a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress by showing that plaintiff intentionally subjected him to mental suffering incident to serious threats to his physical well-being, even though the threats may not have constituted a technical assault.