Torts I, Pages 61–64

Harris v. Jones

Court of Appeals of Maryland, 1977

Facts:

Defendant was plaintiff's supervisor at GM. Plaintiff suffered from a speech impediment which caused him to stutter, and defendant "maliciously and cruelly ridiculed . . . [him] thus causing tremendous nervousness, increasing the physical defect itself and further injuring the mental attitude fostered by the Plaintiff toward his problem and otherwise intentionally inflicting emotional distress." Defendant mocked plaintiff and refused to transfer him, although other employees, including other supervisors, mimicked his stuttering as well. Defendant's physician prescribed pills for his nerves during the period defendant was mistreating plaintiff.

Procedural History:

Jury awarded plaintiff $3,500 compensatory damages and $15,000 punitive damages against both Jones and GM. The Court of Special Appeals reversed, finding no causal connection or severity of hte emotional distress.

Issue:

Whether defendant's conduct amounted to intentional infliction of emotional distress

Rule:

Page 63

[F]our elements . . . must coalesce to impose liability for intentional infliction of emotional distress:

  1. The conduct must be intentional or reckless;
  2. The conduct must be extreme and outrageous;
  3. There must be a causal connection between the wrongful conduct and the emotional distress;
  4. The emotional distress must be severe.

Reasoning:

  • Plaintiffs must "be hardened to a certain amount of rough language and to occasional acts that are definitely inconsiderate and unkind." The conduct must be considered in the setting in which occurred.

  • Plaintiff's claim that defendant's conduct humiliated plaintiff and caused him emotional distress be aggravating his pre-existing nervous condition and worsening his speech impediment was vague and weak.

Holding:

Plaintiff's emotional distress was not severe enough to recover. Affirmed with costs.

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