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Intentional vs. Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

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In personal injury and tort law, the concepts of Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NEID) and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) stand out as particularly nuanced and complex.

These legal theories, although distinct in their nature and application, address situations where individuals suffer emotional trauma due to the actions, whether intentional or negligent, of another party.

Understanding the intricate differences between NEID and IIED is crucial to knowing what claims you can bring. This article aims to clear up these differences, offering insights into the legal standards, evidence requirements, and the unique challenges posed by each type of claim. With a focus on the expertise provided by Colburn Hintze Maletta, a law firm specializing in Family Law, Criminal Defense, and Personal Injury, we delve into the critical aspects of these emotional distress claims, guiding those affected toward informed decisions and effective legal action.

This article will discuss the following topics:


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What is the Difference Between Intentional and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress?

Understanding the difference between intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress is crucial in Arizona law.

This distinction is pivotal in how a case is approached and the type of evidence required.

  • Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED): This occurs when a defendant’s actions are deliberate and aimed at causing emotional harm. The behavior must be extreme and outrageous, going beyond the bounds of decency.
    • Example: An individual, out of malice, intentionally calls someone and falsely claims that a beloved family member has passed away. This cruel deception, done solely to inflict pain and emotional turmoil, could be a clear case of IIED. The caller’s intentional act of imparting such devastating news, knowing it to be false, is both extreme and outrageous, aligning with the legal requirements for an IIED claim in Arizona.
  • Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED): In contrast, NIED arises from a defendant’s careless actions that unintentionally cause emotional distress. The key element here is negligence rather than intent.
    • Example: A medical professional inadvertently discloses sensitive medical information about a patient to unauthorized individuals, resulting in the patient suffering from severe stress and anxiety. This breach of confidentiality, though not intentional, constitutes negligence leading to emotional distress.

How Does the Burden of Proof Differ?

The burden of proof for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NEID) and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) claims in Arizona differs significantly due to the nature of these claims.

NEID: Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

  • Standard of Proof: The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant’s negligence directly caused their emotional distress. This typically involves showing a breach of a duty of care that foreseeably leads to distress.
  • Negligence Requirement: The key factor is proving negligence, which means the defendant failed to act with the level of care that a reasonable person would have in the same situation.
  • Evidence of Distress: Proof of emotional distress can be more indirect compared to IIED. Medical records, testimony from therapists or psychologists, and personal accounts of the distress are often used.
  • Link to Physical Harm: In some cases, particularly in a direct claim of NEID, there may need to be a connection to physical harm or a risk of physical harm, although this is not always a strict requirement.

IIED: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

  • Standard of Proof: The plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s conduct was intentional or reckless, extreme, and outrageous. This is a higher threshold compared to proving negligence.
  • Intent or Recklessness: The plaintiff must show that the defendant intended to cause emotional distress or acted with reckless disregard for the likelihood of causing such distress.
  • Extreme and Outrageous Conduct: The conduct must go beyond all bounds of decency; mere insults, annoyances, or threats typically do not qualify. The behavior must be such that it would cause severe emotional distress to a reasonable person.
  • Severe Emotional Distress: The plaintiff must demonstrate that the emotional distress was so severe that no reasonable person should be expected to endure it. This usually requires more substantial evidence than in NEID claims, such as extensive psychological treatment or testimony regarding the debilitating impact of the distress.

What Is Extreme and Outrageous Conduct?

In the context of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) claims, the notion of extreme and outrageous conduct is essential to the claim.

This behavior is not just inappropriate or offensive; it must be so atrocious and intolerable that it goes beyond the limits of acceptable conduct in our society.

Patterns of Abuse and Harassment:

Often, this conduct includes continuous patterns of abuse or harassment. For example, a supervisor engaging in persistent and severe verbal abuse, issuing threats, or subjecting an employee to public humiliation could fall under this category. Such behavior, especially when prolonged and targeted, will likely be seen as extreme and outrageous.

Intentional Misdeeds Causing Severe Distress:

Another example could be someone deliberately spreading false and damaging rumors about an individual, intending to isolate them socially or harm their reputation. This deliberate character assassination, particularly if it leads to significant emotional trauma, can be considered extreme and outrageous.

Actions Transgressing Social Norms:

Extreme and outrageous conduct can manifest in actions that grossly transgress societal norms. For instance, intentionally disclosing sensitive personal information to cause distress, or engage in stalking behaviors, crosses the line of decency and can be seen as outrageous.

Legal Scrutiny in Arizona

It’s important to note that Arizona law demands clear and substantial evidence to prove such conduct. This often involves rigorous scrutiny in court, where the behavior is evaluated against the standard of a reasonable person’s response to similar circumstances.

In summary, extreme and outrageous conduct in IIED claims involves actions that a reasonable person would find utterly intolerable and beyond the pale. The behavior must be demonstrably more than just offensive or hurtful; it must be profoundly damaging and severe.

Each case is unique, and thus, the specifics of the conduct are carefully examined under Arizona law to determine if they meet the high threshold required for an IIED claim.

Do I Qualify to Bring a Claim for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?

Qualifying for an IIED claim in Arizona hinges on specific criteria:

Proof of intentional or reckless behavior by the defendant- To bring a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, you typically need to show that someone engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct that was intended to cause severe emotional distress and that their conduct did cause severe emotional distress. This can be a difficult standard to meet, as the conduct must be more than just rude, insulting, or offensive, and it must be beyond what is normally expected in social interactions.

Evidence that the conduct was extreme and outrageous- Additionally, you must be able to provide evidence of the emotional distress you suffered, such as through medical records or witness testimony. Suppose you believe you have been the victim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. In that case, it is best to consult a legal professional experienced in this area of law to determine whether you have a valid claim. Keep in mind that the laws regarding intentional infliction of emotional distress can vary by jurisdiction, so it is important to seek guidance from someone familiar with the laws in your area.

A direct causation between the defendant’s actions and the plaintiff’s emotional distress– the plaintiff experienced emotional distress directly caused by the defendant’s actions.  The defendant’s intentional and malicious behavior directly caused the plaintiff’s severe emotional distress, as evidenced by the plaintiff’s trauma and psychological symptoms immediately following the defendant’s actions. The plaintiff’s emotional distress is a direct result of the defendant’s actions, and it is clear that the defendant’s conduct had a direct and significant impact on the plaintiff’s mental well-being.

The emotional distress suffered must be severe and not fleeting or trivial. Severe emotional distress is long-lasting and significantly affects a person’s daily life and functioning. It is not simply a temporary feeling of sadness or stress but rather a profound and enduring state of mental anguish. This type of distress can be caused by various factors, such as trauma, abuse, or loss, and can manifest in symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. When assessing the severity of emotional distress, it is crucial to consider its impact on an individual’s overall well-being and ability to cope with daily life.

What Evidence Can You Use to Prove Emotional Distress?

Proving emotional distress requires substantial evidence. This can include:

  • Medical records demonstrating psychological impact.
  • Testimonies from mental health professionals.
  • Personal diaries or journals documenting the distress.
  • Witness statements corroborating the plaintiff’s experience.

What type of evidence is often most convincing for proving emotional distress?

The most convincing evidence for proving emotional distress is often subjective and personal, such as firsthand accounts and testimonies from the individual experiencing the distress. This type of evidence allows the court to directly understand the impact of the distress on the individual’s life rather than relying on external observations or medical opinions.

Additionally, documented changes in behavior, such as changes in sleeping or eating patterns, withdrawal from social activities, or increased irritability, can be compelling evidence of emotional distress. In some cases, expert testimony from mental health professionals can also provide persuasive evidence, especially when they can attribute the distress to a specific event or cause. Photographs and videos of the individual exhibiting distressing emotions or behaviors can also serve as powerful evidence, as they provide a visual representation of the impact of the distress.

Overall, a combination of personal testimonies, behavioral changes, expert opinions, and visual evidence can be the most convincing for proving emotional distress in a legal setting. 

Can You Bring a Claim if There’s No Physical Injury?

In Arizona, it’s possible to bring a claim for emotional distress even in the absence of physical injury. However, the burden of proof for emotional harm is high. This approach acknowledges the significant impact that psychological trauma can have, independent of physical harm. However, it’s important to understand that the burden of proof for such emotional harm is substantial.

Evidence Requirements:

Courts require tangible evidence of emotional distress. This often includes documentation of psychological treatment, testimony from mental health professionals, or other demonstrable effects on the individual’s daily life. Such evidence is crucial to substantiate the claim and demonstrate the severity of the emotional distress.

NIED Claims:

For Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED) cases, a physical injury can bolster the claim, but it is unnecessary. The focus is more on the negligent act and its psychological impact on the plaintiff.

As we explore the types of emotional distress claims further, it’s essential to consider the unique position of bystanders in such situations. Bystander claims introduce another layer of complexity to emotional distress cases, highlighting the broad scope of situations where emotional distress can be legally recognized and compensated.

bystander claim

Bystander Claim of NEID

In Arizona, a bystander claim of Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NEID) represents a unique aspect of emotional distress law.

This type of claim arises when an individual, who is a bystander to an event, suffers emotional distress due to the negligence of another.

  • Proximity to the Incident: The bystander must have been physically close to the incident and witnessed it firsthand. Arizona law typically requires the bystander to be present at the incident scene.
  • Relationship to the Victim: There must be a close relationship between the bystander and the victim, such as a family member or a significant other. This relationship heightens the foreseeability of the emotional distress.
  • Manifestation of Emotional Distress: Similar to other emotional distress claims, the bystander must show evidence of significant emotional distress. This can include medical or psychological treatment records.
  • Direct Causation: There needs to be a direct causal link between the negligent act and the bystander’s emotional distress. The distress must be a foreseeable result of the incident caused by the negligence.

In bystander NEID cases, Arizona courts assess the intensity and duration of the emotional distress, along with the closeness of the relationship between the bystander and the victim. The stronger these factors, the more likely the claim will be valid.

Hypothetical Scenario Illustrating Direct vs. Bystander Claims for NEID

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario in Arizona to illustrate the difference between a direct claim and a bystander claim for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NEID).


Imagine a scenario involving two siblings, Alex and Jordan, driving in separate cars on a highway in Arizona. Suddenly, a distracted driver, Sam, crashes into Jordan’s car, causing a severe accident.

Direct Claim for NEID:

Jordan, who was directly involved in the accident, experiences severe emotional distress along with physical injuries. Jordan can file a direct claim for NEID against Sam. The elements for this claim would include:

  • Negligence: Sam’s distracted driving is a negligent act.
  • Emotional Distress: Jordan, being directly involved and injured in the accident, suffers from emotional distress, which can be validated through psychological evaluations and treatment records.
  • Causation: The direct link between Sam’s negligence and Jordan’s emotional distress is clear.

Bystander Claim for NEID:

Alex, witnessing the accident and seeing their sibling Jordan severely injured, suffers from emotional trauma as a result. Alex can file a bystander claim for NEID against Sam. The elements for this claim would involve:

  • Proximity: Alex was at the scene, witnessing the accident firsthand.
  • Close Relationship: As Jordan’s sibling, there is an established close relationship.
  • Emotional Distress: Alex must demonstrate significant emotional distress, such as seeking psychological help, to support the claim.
  • Direct Causation: The emotional distress is directly linked to witnessing the traumatic event involving a close family member.


In this scenario, both Jordan and Alex have grounds for NEID claims, albeit different types. Jordan’s claim is a direct result of being involved in the accident, while Alex’s claim stems from witnessing a loved one in a traumatic event. Both require proof of emotional distress, but the context and relation to the negligent act differ significantly. Understanding these distinctions is crucial in Arizona law for appropriately addressing emotional distress claims.

Zone of Danger vs. Near Miss Situations for Bystander NIED Claims

In the realm of bystander Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED) claims, understanding the distinction between “zone of danger” and “near miss” situations is crucial. These concepts determine the eligibility and strength of a bystander’s NIED claim under Arizona law.

Zone of Danger

  • Definition: The “zone of danger” refers to situations where a bystander was in a position of potential physical harm due to the defendant’s negligent act. This concept is pivotal in establishing a legitimate bystander NIED claim.
  • Legal Implications: For a bystander to be eligible to claim NIED under this doctrine, they must prove that they were within a zone where the defendant’s negligent actions could have physically harmed them. This does not require actual physical injury but rather a credible threat of physical harm.
  • Example: Imagine a scenario where a parent witnesses a car speeding towards their child playing on the sidewalk. The parent, in an attempt to save the child, suffered severe emotional distress. Although neither the parent nor the child is physically injured, the parent was within the ‘zone of danger’ and could therefore have a valid NIED claim.

Near Miss Situation

  • Definition: “Near miss” situations involve circumstances where a bystander is close to an incident caused by negligence but not within the immediate danger zone.
  • Legal Implications: These cases are more challenging when it comes to claiming NIED, as the bystander was not at direct risk of physical harm. The emotional distress in such scenarios, though potentially significant, might not meet the threshold for NIED under Arizona law.
  • Example: Consider a situation where an individual witnesses a severe car accident from a nearby sidewalk. They were never in direct danger themselves but were nonetheless traumatized by witnessing the event. While their emotional distress is genuine, it may not qualify for NIED as they were not in the ‘zone of danger.’

State-by-State Variations in Emotional Distress Claims: NEID and IIED Laws Across the U.S.

The laws governing Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NEID) and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) vary significantly from state to state in the U.S. While the basic principles are similar, there are notable differences in how these claims are interpreted and applied.

Here are some key areas where state laws differ:

Legal Standards and Definitions

  • Definition of Outrageous Conduct: What constitutes “outrageous” conduct in IIED claims can vary. Some states have a higher threshold for what is considered extreme and outrageous.
  • Negligence Standards: The criteria for negligence in NEID claims can also differ. Some states may require a stronger connection between the defendant’s action and the emotional distress.

Relationship to Physical Injury

  • Physical Injury Requirement: Some states require that emotional distress claims, especially NEID claims, be accompanied by physical injury, while others do not.
  • Bystander Claims: The rules for bystander NEID claims, including requirements regarding the relationship to the victim and proximity to the event, vary between states.

Damages and Compensation

  • Caps on Damages: Certain states impose caps on non-economic damages, which can include compensation for emotional distress.
  • Punitive Damages: The availability and criteria for awarding punitive damages in IIED cases can differ. Some states allow punitive damages more readily in cases of extreme and outrageous conduct.

Procedural Differences

  • Statute of Limitations: The time frame a claim must be filed varies by state.
  • Court Precedents: State courts have their own precedents and interpretations, which can influence how emotional distress claims are handled.

Specific State Statutes

  • Unique State Laws: Some states have specific statutes that directly address emotional distress claims, providing detailed guidelines and requirements.

Contact Colburn Hintze Maletta for Emotional Distress Claims

Navigating emotional distress claims, such as Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NEID) or Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED), requires the specialized expertise that Colburn Hintze Maletta brings to the table. 

The role of an attorney at Colburn Hintze Maletta in these cases goes beyond mere legal representation. They also work to assemble the necessary evidence, which may include medical records, psychological evaluations, and expert testimony. The emotional nature of these claims can be overwhelming, and having the seasoned professionals at Colburn Hintze Maletta manage the legal intricacies allows you to concentrate on personal recovery. Contact our personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation

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