California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress—Essential Factual Elements

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [name of defendant]’s conduct caused [him/her] to suffer severe emotional distress. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

1. That [name of defendant]’s conduct was outrageous;

2. [That [name of defendant] intended to cause [name of plaintiff] emotional distress;]


[That [name of defendant] acted with reckless disregard of the probability that [name of plaintiff] would suffer emotional distress, knowing that [name of plaintiff] was present when the conduct occurred;]

3. That [name of plaintiff] suffered severe emotional distress; and

4. That [name of defendant]’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing [name of plaintiff]’s severe emotional distress.

New September 2003

Directions for Use

CACI Nos. 1602—1604, regarding the elements of intentional infliction of emotional distress, should be given with the above instruction.

Depending on the facts of the case, a plaintiff could choose one or both of the bracketed choices in element 2.

Sources and Authority

  • “A cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress exists when there is ‘(1) extreme and outrageous conduct by the defendant with the intention of causing, or reckless disregard of the probability of causing, emotional distress; (2) the plaintiff’s suffering severe or extreme emotional distress; and (3) actual and proximate causation of the emotional distress by the defendant’s outrageous conduct.’ A defendant’s conduct is ‘outrageous’ when it is so ‘extreme as to exceed all bounds of that usually tolerated in a civilized community.’ And the defendant’s conduct must be ‘intended to inflict injury or engaged in with the realization that injury will result.’ ” (Hughes v. Pair (2009) 46 Cal.4th 1035, 1050—1051 [95 Cal.Rptr.3d 636, 209 P.3d 963])
  • “ ‘[I]t is generally held that there can be no recovery for mere profanity, obscenity, or abuse, without circumstances of aggravation, or for insults, indignities or threats which are considered to amount to nothing more than mere annoyances.’ ” (Yurick v. Superior Court (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 1116, 1128 [257 Cal.Rptr. 665], internal citations omitted.)
  • “It is not enough that the conduct be intentional and outrageous. It must be conduct directed at the plaintiff, or occur in the presence of a plaintiff of whom the defendant is aware.” (Christensen v. Superior Court (1991) 54 Cal.3d 868, 903—904 [2 Cal.Rptr.2d 79, 820 P.2d 181].)
  • “Severe emotional distress [is] emotional distress of such substantial quantity or enduring quality that no reasonable man in a civilized society should be expected to endure it.” (Fletcher v. Western Life Insurance Co. (1970) 10 Cal.App.3d 376, 397 [89 Cal.Rptr. 78].)
  • “ ‘It is for the court to determine whether on the evidence severe emotional distress can be found; it is for the jury to determine whether, on the evidence, it has in fact existed.’ ” (Fletcher, supra, 10 Cal.App.3d at p. 397, internal citation omitted.)
  • “ ‘The law limits claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress to egregious conduct toward plaintiff proximately caused by defendant.’ The only exception to this rule is that recognized when the defendant is aware, but acts with reckless disregard of, the plaintiff and the probability that his or her conduct will cause severe emotional distress to that plaintiff. Where reckless disregard of the plaintiff’s interests is the theory of recovery, the presence of the plaintiff at the time the outrageous conduct occurs is recognized as the element establishing a higher degree of culpability which, in turn, justifies recovery of greater damages by a broader group of plaintiffs than allowed on a negligent infliction of emotional distress theory.” (Christensen, supra, 54 Cal.3d at pp. 905—906, internal citations omitted.)

Secondary Sources

5 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, §§ 451—454

4 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 44, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, § 44.01 (Matthew Bender)

32 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 362, Mental Suffering and Emotional Distress, § 362.10 (Matthew Bender)

15 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 153, Mental Suffering and Emotional Distress. § 153.20 et seq. (Matthew Bender)