Recovering Damages for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress in NevadaFiled under Personal Injury
Under Nevada law, if you have been the victim of outrageous behavior and you have suffered emotional or mental trauma, you may be able to recover damages — and punitive damages — for emotional distress. In one recent case, a jury awarded $1.7 million in damages where the plaintiff proved he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and heart problems because of his employer’s outrageous conduct including retaliation, reducing his pay, calling him in meetings, denying him benefits and having his supervisors behave in a hostile manner. See Dossat v. Hoffman-La Roche Ins.
The Basics of Emotional Distress
To recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”), you must show that you were a victim of:
- Extreme and outrageous conduct;
- Where such conduct was done with the intention to cause you emotional distress, or done with reckless disregard for the probability for causing you distress;
- Where you suffered severe or extreme emotional distress; and
- And where the extreme and outrageous conduct was the proximate cause of your emotional distress – see Nelson v. City of Las Vegas, 99 Nev. 548, 665 P.2d 1141 (1983).
Each of these four elements can become very contentious in IIED lawsuits. What constitutes “extreme and outrageous” conduct is not always clear. What is extreme to you might not be good enough for the judge or the jury. Likewise, what constitutes “severe emotional distress” is not always clear.
What is Considered Outrageous Conduct?
According to the case law, “outrageous conduct” is conduct that goes beyond all possible bounds of decency, is atrocious and utterly intolerable.
An illustrative example can be found in the case of Branda v. Sanford (aka “Redd Foxx”), 97 Nev. 643, 637 P.2d 1223 (1981). The plaintiff, Cheryl Branda, was a then-15 year old working as a busgirl at a Las Vegal hotel. One morning, as she was working, Foxx, a television actor star of the show Sanford and Sons, began making sexual innuendoes towards Branda. When she ignored him, according to the witnesses, he became verbally abusive asking Branda if her name was “like in cherry.” Foxx then allegedly yelled at Branda, calling her a number of expletives, and told her that she was “no lady” and that it “[expletive] shouldn’t bother you.” He allegedly said “This is the one I want. This is her.” The incident was loud and prolonged enough that many hotel patrons and employees gathered to watch and listen.
Branda was so emotionally upset by Foxx’s abuse that she suffered nervous upset stomach and was forced to quit her job at the hotel approximately two weeks after the incident.
The case was dismissed by the trial court before trial, but the Nevada Supreme Court reversed and said that the facts alleged were sufficient. A jury should have decided if the allegations were true and if judgment should be awarded for the plaintiff.
As can be seen by the Branda case, sometimes the status of the victim is important for determining the outrageousness of the conduct. In the Branda case, the victim was only 15-years old and worked bussing tables. In terms of the victim’s status, Posadas v. City of Reno, 109 Nev. 448, 851 P.2d 438 (1993), is another illustrative case. In Posada, it was held that recovery for emotional distress might be available where a press release was issued stating that a police officer had “lied under oath.” The officer had admitted lying, but not under oath. Lying “under oath” is a crime and is a particularly devastating charge to make against a law enforcement official. In addition, the officer claimed his distress was severe enough that he was hospitalized.
Another illustrative case is Dillard Dept. Stores, Inc. v. Beckwith, 115 Nev. 372, 989 P. 2d 882 (1999). In Dillard, the plaintiff was sixty-five at the time and had worked for the store for twenty-five years. She had been a manager for the store for 19 years. She injured her back at work trying to move a large table and was forced to take off work to recover. She also made a claim for workers’ compensation. Dillard asked Beckwith to return to work despite knowing that her doctor had not released her to return to work. Upon her return to work, she was demoted to a entry-level sales position. Dillard did not offer Beckwith a sales manager job even though two other manager positions were open.
Beckwith was told her demotion was directly related to her claim for workers’ compensation. The new job paid forty percent less than her old job. She was told that she had two choices: take the lower-level job or resign. She was laughed about by her fellow coworkers who talked about her behind her back and went silent when she walked into a room. They openly gossiped and speculated about why she had been demoted. She complained about the abusive and harassing treatment and claimed she was being humiliated, but Dillard did nothing. She eventually quit and was subsequently treated by a psychiatrist for a major depressive disorder. She was given antidepressant medication and psychotherapy.
She sued the department store alleging, among other things, intentional infliction of emotional distress. After trial, the jury awarded $200,000 in damages and $600,000 in punitive damages.
Here are a few other cases where the conduct was sufficiently outrageous:
- Boss sexually harassed employee, forcibly kissing her, etc. — Dubric v. A Cab, LLC.
- Race discrimination including use of racial slurs — Gardner v. LKM Healthcare, LLC.
- Insurance company denial of claims — Hackler v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co.
- Wrongful behavior by bank in foreclosure action — Down v. River City Group, LLC
- Failure of correctional officers to allow medical treatment of injured inmate — Allen v. Clark County Detention Center
- Requiring workers to work excessively long hours without overtime under threat of deportation — Lucatelli v. Texas De Brazil (Las Vegas)
- Wrongful firing to avoid paying severance and the fabricating reasons for firing — Latcheran v. Primecare Nevada, Inc.
Some of these cases demonstrate an additional consideration: abuse of power. Where the victim is under the power of the abuser — economic and/or physical — courts are more likely to find the conduct outrageous.
What is “Severe Emotional Distress?”
For IIED, except in cases where there is a physical battery, you must show that you have suffered some physical manifestation of the emotional distress in order to support an award for emotional damages. And, as courts have said, these claims “operate on a continuum” meaning that, the less extreme the outrageous conduct, the greater the need for evidence of physical injury or illness from the emotional distress.
A good example is Olivero v. Lowe, 116 Nev. 395, 995 P. 2d 1023 (2000). In that case, the defendant Olivero appeared at a construction site where Olivero was building a home. The plaintiff Lowe was a worker. Olivero complained to Lowe that construction was behind schedule. Olivero then brandished a handgun at Lowe, punched him in the face and pointed the gun at Lowe’s head, threatened to kill Lowe and forced him to dismantle a portion of the work. Lowe sued and claimed contusions and bruises from being hit in the face, pain and suffering and claimed emotional distress. However, Lowe did not seek medical or psychological treatment. Nonetheless, the trial court awarded Lowe $10,000 combined for assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress and awarded $45,000 in punitive damages. This was upheld by the Nevada Supreme Court.
Damages and Punitive Damages for Nevada Claims
If you have suffered emotional distress, you are entitled to compensation for your distress and the physical and mental injuries suffered. You may also be able to recover punitive damages against your abuser as in two cases discussed above:
- $10,000 in damages, $45,000 in punitive damages — Olivero v. Lowe, above
- $200,000 in damages, $600,000 in punitive damages — Dillard Dept. Stores, above
There are also related causes of action where you can recover for emotional distress: negligent infliction of emotional distress. Likewise, you can, under some circumstances, recover for mental trauma if you are a bystander witnessing outrageous behavior.
Consult with Nevada Personal Injury Lawyers for Emotional Distress
If you or a loved one has suffered emotional distress because of some third party’s intentional behavior or negligence, contact the skilled and dedicated personal injury attorneys at Paul Padda Law. Call today at to talk to a lawyer. The initial consultation is free. We have a team of lawyers and staff that can protect your rights under the law.