Liability for Abusive or Insulting Language

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Civil liabilities may be imposed on a person who intentionally or recklessly uses abusive or insulting language that causes mental distress to another person. Although the claim for damages from abusive or insulting language falls under the more general claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, there are special rules that pertain to this cause of action. 

What Do I Need To Prove To Sue For Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress From Abusive or Insulting Language?

Generally, the injured party would need to show the following to sue: 

  1. The defendant intentionally used abusive or insulting language;
  2. The language used was unreasonable and outrageous;
  3. The defendant knew or should have realized that the language used would likely result in illness to the injured party; and
  4. The injured party suffered severe emotional distress as a result of the defendant's words. 

Can I Sue For Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress From Abusive or Insulting Language as a Claim By Itself? 

Maybe. Not all states recognize this claim as a separate cause of action. Some states require that this claim be accompanied by some other actionable wrongdoings, such as: 

     1. Assault
     2. Battery
     3. False Imprisonment; and
     4. Defamation

Moreover, each state may have statutes that specifically address civil liabilities from use of abusive or insulting language. 

What are Some Examples of Abusive or Insulting Language?

    1. Verbal threats; 
    2. Humiliating statements;
    3. Racial or sexual slurs; and
    4. Scandalous statements. 

Will Either Party Be Liable For Damages When Both Parties Exchanged Abusive or Insulting Language? 

Although there is not clear rule on this issue, it is most likely that both parties will not be able to sue each other when they both used abusive or insulting language. 

Can I Sue If Someone Said Something That Made Me "Feel Bad?"

Minor injuries to feelings are usually not enough to hold someone liable for damages. However, there is no universal rule that determines how abusive or insulting the language must be before one can sue. Most of the time, this issue will be determined in light of the facts and circumstances surrounding the case. As a general rule, the court will often start by looking at whether the language will cause severe emotional distress to an ordinary person with ordinary sensibilities and reason.  

Do I Need To Have Physical Symptoms of the Emotional Distress To Sue? 

Maybe. Different states have different requirements for proving severe emotional distress. Obviously, your case will be much stronger if you can show you have suffered physical illness/harm as a result of the emotional distress. 

Do you Need a Personal Injury Attorney to Sue for Emotional Distress? 

If you or a loved one have been injured by the intentional or negligent acts of another, you should speak to an attorney immediately to learn more about preserving your rights and remedies. A personal injury lawyer will be able to explain the value of your case and help you navigate through the complicated legal process. 

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Last Modified: 01-18-2013 04:18 PM PST

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