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When Is Fear an Actionable Personal Injury?

When Is Fear an Actionable Personal Injury?

Deliberately trying to scare someone can be an innocent joke. But sometimes causing someone fear can be a serious matter, causing lasting psychological harm that requires professional help. In some situations a person who has intentionally caused another person to suffer fear may be liable for resulting damages.

A common cause of action against someone who has emotionally abused another person is intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). In Nevada a plaintiff must prove four things to recover for IIED:

  1. The defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous;
  2. The defendant intended to cause emotional distress, or recklessly disregarded the damage he or she was doing;
  3. The plaintiff actually suffered extreme or severe emotional distress; and
  4. The defendant’s conduct caused the plaintiff’s distress.

Miller v. Jones, 114 Nev. 1291, 1299-1300 (1998). These elements raise a number of significant preliminary challenges for anyone who wishes to recover compensation from a defendant for IIED:

  • Intent. Proving that a defendant intended to cause emotional harm can turn into a contest of subjective impressions, where the defense argues that the plaintiff simply misunderstood or misconstrued what was happening. An experienced personal injury attorney knows to dig deeper, to find evidence that can independently verify that the defendant deliberately (or at the very least, recklessly) traumatized the plaintiff.
  • Extreme and outrageous conduct. Determining whether conduct was “extreme” is a role for juries and judges. These are subjective questions that will rely on the fact-finder’s ability to evaluate the defendant’s behavior in light of social norms. As such, the plaintiff needs to describe the defendant’s conduct in detail, preferably with corroborating evidence.
  • Proof of extreme or severe emotional distress. A plaintiff must show evidence that he or she experienced real emotional trauma. This can be shown by medical records from a physician or psychiatrist, but proof of such isn’t required in most cases. The plaintiff normally must provide more than the plaintiff’s own testimony. Nevada courts have adopted a sliding scale approach that moderates evidence requirements in relation to the outrageousness of the defendant’s behavior: “the less extreme the outrage, the more appropriate it is to require evidence of physical injury or illness from the emotional distress.” Nelson v. City of Las Vegas, 99 Nev. 548, 555 (1983).
  • Causation. The defendant’s actions must have been the legal cause of the plaintiff’s distress. Showing causation is sometimes a straightforward component of the facts surrounding the defendant’s wrongful actions. In cases where the plaintiff’s emotional state could have been caused by a range of factors other than the defendant’s actions, such as existing mental health problems or other significant sources of stress, the defendant may have a case that his or her extreme conduct was not the cause of the plaintiff’s injury.

If you have suffered emotional harm as a consequence of someone’s harassment or aggressive behavior, an attorney can help you seek legal protection and recover financial compensation. For more than 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented clients in the Las Vegas area in personal injury cases. For a confidential, no-cost attorney consultation, call us today at 702-388-4476, or ask us to call you through our contact page.