Pennsylvania Personal Injury Law: Emotional Distress Cases

The elements of intentional infliction of emotional distress cases

Intentional infliction of emotional distress is an important but sometimes unappreciated kind of personal injury suit. Typically, personal injury lawsuits are associated with examples of medical malpractice, automobile accidents, and/or instances of slip and fall injuries. However, the courts also recognize claims alleging the intentional infliction of emotional distress upon a victim.

In establishing the merits of this kind of situation, it is a good idea to review the relevant tort. The tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress necessarily includes these elements (read the WEX definition here courtesy: Cornell Law’s Legal Information Institute)

  • the defendant’s acts must be intentional and reckless
  • the defendant’s conduct must be extreme and outrageous (according to relevant, appropriate, and reasonable community standards)
  • the defendant’s extreme, outrageous conduct must be the cause of (i.e. be responsible for the production of) severe, extreme emotional distress

Pennsylvania’s recognition of emotional distress cases

Historically, Pennsylvania courts have limited recognition of the tort in only a few – albeit flagrant – cases. A 1970 Supreme Court of Pennsylvania case (Papieves v. Kelly) involved the purposeful withholding of both a child’s body and the fact that the child had died, from the child’s parents. It was alleged that the defendant’s (Owen Norman Lawrence) actions

...constituted an invasion of, and an unlawful interference with, plaintiffs’ right to the possession of the decedent’s body; that such acts constituted an unlawful and indecent disposal of decedent’s body without the authority or consent of the plaintiffs; and that defendants had so acted with the intent to prevent the plaintiffs from discovering the fate of their son. Plaintiffs averred that as the result of the aforesaid acts they had suffered mental anguish, emotional disturbance, embarrassment, and humiliation. (PAPIEVES V. KELLY, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, March 20, 1970)

Note the italicized portions of the quote above as they correspond to important elements of this tort. The plaintiffs, in this case, sought damages in excess of $10,000 for the emotional torment suffered as a result of the defendants intentional and extreme acts.

Advice for victims of extreme emotional distress

As I’ve previously argued (see my article “Pennsylvania law on infliction of emotional distress”), victims of poor manners or foul language have little legal recourse. And while bothersome, even distressing, these common occurrences are not candidates for the suit of intentional infliction of emotional distress. However, there are legitimate and actionable situations where an individual’s mental anguish can be recognized by this tort.

For instance, if the extreme, intentional actions of another person have so significantly impacted your life that you can no longer functionally participate in your personal or professional life, then you may have legitimate legal recourse. If that’s the case, you should consider speaking to a competent attorney, one qualified to examine the individual facts of your case and preferably with experience in this area of law.

We’d be honored to review the facts of your personal injury case, anytime. We appreciate the unique requirements of emotional distress cases, and at the very least will be happy to recommend the legal services of our highly respected, knowledgeable peers. Please call us today to schedule an appointment.

Additional resources:


With more than 20 years of experience, the personal injury attorneys at Fellerman & Ciarimboli strive to provide the best service to clients in Philadelphia, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and throughout the Keystone State.