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Suing an Employer for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Employers can have powerful influence over their employees’ mental health. Job-related stress, whether from management pressure or other factors, is a common problem. Personality conflicts, disagreements over job responsibilities, and unreasonable demands are an ordinary part of work. But sometimes an employer’s behavior edges into abuse. In extreme cases, the employee may be able to sue the employer for intentional infliction of emotional distress. When thinking about wrongful behavior by an employer it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that “the employer” is not just the owner of the company or the employee’s direct manager, but can mean any agent of the business. An employer can be held responsible for actions taken by any of its employees during working hours provided that the employer is aware of the employee’s wrongful behavior. Nevada law requires plaintiffs who sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress to prove four things:
  1. The defendant’s conduct must have been extreme and outrageous. The sort of behavior that meets this standard can be the focus of court arguments. Whether the employer’s behavior was “extreme and outrageous” is determined according to the context of the behavior and the social norms surrounding it. Proving that the behavior happened can be a critical factor—having coworkers available to corroborate the plaintiff’s story can be very helpful.
  2. The defendant intended to cause the plaintiff’s emotional distress, or recklessly disregarded the harm being done to the plaintiff. It isn’t enough that a manager is harsh or rude in general. There are two paths to recovery: either the manager must have wanted the employee to suffer, or the manager ignored signs that the employee was suffering and continued a bad behavior.
  3. The plaintiff actually suffered extreme or severe emotional distress. Proving actual injury is a basic requirement for recovering damages in litigation. There are numerous ways to prove emotional harm, including testimony from psychiatric professionals, family and friends who have observed the plaintiff’s suffering, or testimony from coworkers as to how the employer’s actions affected the plaintiff.
  4. The defendant’s conduct caused the plaintiff’s distress. A common tactic used by defendants is to look for alternative causes of the plaintiff’s emotional injury. For example, if the plaintiff has a mental health condition such as clinical depression that is unrelated to work, it may be difficult to show that the employer’s actions were solely responsible for the plaintiff’s injury.
Miller v. Jones, 114 Nev. 1291, 1299-1300 (1998). Generally speaking, the more outrageous the employer’s behavior, the more likely the plaintiff will be able to recover damages. Bad behavior can be systematic and repetitive: for example, a manager who mocks an employee’s appearance day after day and doesn’t stop after the bullying visibly affects the employee. A single incident can also be outrageous. For example, an HR manager who announces embarrassing details of an employee’s criminal background check at a work lunch may be engaging in bad behavior that meets the standard, provided the other elements are present. For more than 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented injured clients in the Las Vegas area. If you have endured severe emotional harassment at work, call us today for a free attorney consultation at 702-388-4476 or reach us through our contact page.

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.