Intentional Inflection of Emotional Distress Claims in Maryland

If someone has wrongfully and intentionally caused you great emotional harm in Maryland, you may have a claim for the intentional inflection of emotional distress.

Maryland law, however, does not make it easy to bring an intention infliction of emotional distress claim.  To bring this tort, the plaintiff must demonstrate a “truly devastating effect” from the defendant’s behavior.  The emotional response must be so awful that “no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.”

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress Generally

Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) is a tort claim that allows a plaintiff to recover damages from a defendant who intentionally or recklessly caused severe emotional distress through extreme and outrageous conduct. Although distress claims can vary slightly depending on the jurisdiction, the following general elements must typically be established for a successful claim:

  1. Outrageous and extreme conduct: The defendant’s conduct must be, in a word, awful.  The conduct needs to be so extreme and outrageous that it goes beyond the bounds of decency and is considered intolerable in a civilized society. Mere insults, annoyances, or threats are unlikely to rise to this standard.
  2. Intent or recklessness: The defendant must have intended to cause emotional distress or acted with reckless disregard for the likelihood of causing such distress. This means that the defendant either knew their conduct would cause emotional distress or acted with reckless disregard for the potential consequences.
  3. Causation: There must be a direct link between the defendant’s actions and the plaintiff’s emotional distress. The plaintiff must show that the defendant’s conduct was the actual and proximate cause of their emotional distress.
  4. Severe emotional distress: The plaintiff must prove that they suffered severe emotional distress as a result of the defendant’s conduct. This distress must be more than minor or trivial discomfort or inconvenience. Instead, it must be so severe that a reasonable person in the plaintiff’s position would be unable to cope with it. This usually requires the the need for mental health treatment.

What Are the Elements of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress in Maryland?

The elements of the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress in Maryland are: (1) the conduct is intentional or reckless; (2) the conduct is extreme and outrageous; (3) there is a causal connection between the wrongful conduct and the emotional distress; and (4) the emotional distress is severe. In order for distress to be sufficiently severe to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, "the plaintiff must show that he suffered a severely disabling emotional response to the defendant's conduct, and that the distress was so severe that "no reasonable man could be expected to endure it.

Does Maryland Law Allow for Negligent Inflection of Emotional Distress Claims?

Maryland law does not recognize the independent tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress. But emotional distress is part of the plaintiff's damages in any case where there is an underlying tort, such as negligence.

Sample Intentional Infection of Emotional Distress Lawsuit Language

Below is sample language to make an intentional inflection of emotional distress count in a Maryland lawsuit:

Plaintiff sues Regina Henderson and, in support, states as follows:

  1. Plaintiff Jennifer Taskey resides in Baltimore City, Maryland.
  2. Defendant, Regina Henderson is a newly licensed therapist with an office in Baltimore City, Maryland.
  3. The defendant was the therapist for the Plaintiff and her husband, Dirk Tasky from December 3, 2022, to August 11, 2023.
  4. The Defendant was paid $250 an hour to provide martial and individual counseling to the Plaintiff and her husband.
  5. While counseling the Plaintiff to be patient with her husband sexually during the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, she began to make unprofessional advances towards him. Specifically, she began to give Mr. Tasky massages “to relax and breathe” during individual therapy sessions.
  6. On or about July 7, 2022, these massage sessions escalated to kissing and petting.
  7. On or about July 9, 2022, the Defendant counseled the plaintiff that she should begin to imagine life after her marriage.
  8. On July 12, 2020, Mr. Tasky left the family home at 10:30 p.m. to “clear his head.” He drove to the Defendant’s office where they had sex on the same sofa in which she provided counseling to the Plaintiff and Mr. Tasky.
    9. These sexual liasions continued until August 20, 2022. On this day, the Plaintiff came home to find the half-undressed Defendant sneaking outof her house. The Plaintiff’s husband was forced to confess and corroborate all the allegations in the lawsuit.
    10. Based on information and belief, Mr. Tasky is now living with the Defendant.
    11. The conduct of Defendant’s agents was malicious, reckless, willful, and intentional.
    12. As a result of Defendant’s exploitation of her therapist-patient relationship with the Plaintiff, she has suffered and will continue to suffer, severe and extreme emotional distress that has left her unable to work and accruing the costs of much needed therapy. All these injuries are directly related to this breach of this special relationship.

WHEREFORE, Plaintiff demands judgment against Regina Henderson in excess of Seventy-Five Thousand Dollars ($75,000) in compensatory and punitive damages, plus interest and costs of this action.

emotional distress in Maryland

Key Maryland Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress Cases

Below are some key intentional infliction of emotional distress cases in Maryland that look at the inflection points on the viability of these cases.

  • Carter v Aramark Sports, 153 Md. App. 210, 835 A.2d 262 (2003): The plaintiff in this case worked for Aramark an usher at Orioles games at Camden Yards.  Aramark believed he was stealing concession stand proceeds.  A police officer who worked off-duty at Aramark led the effort for criminal charges against the plaintiff. She was found not guilty. After the verdict, she filed a civil lawsuit against Aramark.  Her lawsuit alleged she suffered severe and extreme emotional distress” and that the conduct was “extreme and outrageous.”  The court dismissed the count for intentional infliction of emotional distress because the pleadings did “not present the kind of factual detail that [the judge believed] the case law requires.” The Maryland Court of Special Appeals agreed.  It found that the defendant’s alleged conduct did not rise to the level of the extreme and outrageous conduct required for this cause of action.  The court ruled that for the “conduct to meet the test of outrageousness, it must be so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”  The key to this case is the lack of specificity in the pleadings.
  • Borchers v Hrychuk, 126 Md. App. 10, 727 A.2d 388 (1999).  A woman went to her church pastor about problems she was having in her marriage.  The pastor initiated a sexual relationship with the woman.  Her husband sued.  Plaintiff’s lawyer argued that Figueiredo-Torres, the next case below, stood for the principle that a therapist abusing his power by sleeping with the patient is enough for an intentional inflection of emotional distress.  But the Court of Special Appeals did not see this as an “officially sanctioned treatment relationship” like the therapist-patient relationship in Figueiredo-Torres.
  • Figueiredo-Torres v Nickel, 321 Md. 642, 584 A.2d 69 (1991).  A therapist in Montgomery County providing couples’ therapy was sleeping with the wife while counseling the husband that he should not be having sex with his wife.  The Maryland high court found this twisted manipulation meet the bar for an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. The court underscored the importance of special relationship the psychologist had as the man’s therapist (as opposed to suing your best friend because he is having sex with your wife).
  • B.N. v K.K., 312 Md. 135, 538 A.2d 1175 (1988).  A Johns Hopkins doctor was having sex with a nurse while knowing he had active herpes.  Awful, right?  The Maryland high court followed the majority rule that having sex with someone while having active herpes is outrageous enough to meet the high bar for this tort. The facts here are pretty twisted, too.  Apparently, he told the plaintiff during therapy that he was “a codfish” and said his wife deserved a “fillet.”  Seriously?  (Maybe the most outrageous thing is the guy continued to work as a counselor and ultimately married the wife.)