Legal Definition of Emotional Distress

Damages for emotional distress have been permitted only where there are some means for assuring the validity of the claim.2 min read

Emotional Distress

Damages for emotional distress have been permitted only where there are some means for assuring the validity of the claim. (Molien, supra, 27 Cal.3d at 926-27.) The case law reveals a diversity of circumstances in which recovery for emotional distress may be had. They are loosely linked in the sense that in each it could be said that a particular form of mental suffering naturally ensued from the acts constituting the invasion of another kind of protected interest.

'The commonest example . . . is probably where the plaintiff suffers personal injuries in addition to mental distress as a result of negligent or intentional misconduct by the defendant.' (Crisci, supra, 66 Cal.2d at 433.) Pain and suffering is the natural concomitant of a personal injury. (Capelouto v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, supra, 7 Cal.3d 889 [infant's pain and suffering incident to contagious illness].)

'[I]n the case of many torts, such as assault, battery, false imprisonment, and defamation, mental suffering will frequently constitute the principal element of damages.' (State Rubbish, etc. Assn. v. Siliznoff, supra, 38 Cal.2d at 338; see also Deevy v. Tassi, supra, 21 Cal.2d 109 [assault and battery].) Molien, supra, 27 Cal.3d 916, found sufficient assurance of the validity of a claim of emotional distress in the nature of the cause of action for negligent misdiagnosis, predicated as it was upon a false imputation of syphilis, which by statute constitutes slander per se, an intentional tort. (Id., at pp. 930-31.)

Invasions of Mental and Emotional Tranquility

In torts involving extreme and outrageous intentional invasions of mental and emotional tranquillity, the outrageous conduct affords the necessary assurance of the validity of the claim. (Id. at 927.) Recovery also has been sanctioned for emotional distress which could be said naturally to ensue from an act which invaded an interest protected by an established tort. (See, Sloane v. Southern Cal. Ry. Co., supra, 111 Cal. 668 [humiliation from wrongful ejection from train].

State Rubbish, etc. Assoc. v. Siliznoff, supra, 38 Cal.2d 330 [intentional infliction of emotional distress]; Crisci v. Security Ins. Co., supra, 66 Cal.2d 425 [physical injuries and psychosis resulting from fall through opening]; see also Acadia, California, Ltd. v. Herbert (1960) 54 Cal.2d 328, 337 [mental suffering occasioned for fear for the safety of family caused by trespass].

Kornoff v. Kingsburg Cotton Oil Co. (1955) 45 Cal.2d 265, 271 [discomfort and annoyance caused by nuisance]; Herzog v. Grosso (1953) 41 Cal.2d 219, 225 [annoyance ensuing from trespass].)' (Merenda v. Superior Court (1992) 3 Cal.App.4th 1, 8-9 [no emotional distress damages for negligent legal malpractice]; see also discussion of limitations on emotional distress damages in Branch v. Homefed Bank (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th 793, 800.)

Not All Mental Anguish is Compensable

'[E]motional distress is but 'part of the human condition.' Fuentes v. Perez (1977) 66 Cal.App.3d 163, 169. Loss by anyone of property or money, and certainly loss of expected wages, will normally produce mental anguish. 'Complete emotional tranquillity is seldom attainable in this world . . .' (6 Cal.App.4th at 801.)

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