California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

1604. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress—“Severe Emotional Distress” Defined

Emotional distress includes suffering, anguish, fright, horror, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, shock, humiliation, and shame.

“Severe emotional distress” is not mild or brief; it must be so substantial or long lasting that no reasonable person in a civilized society should be expected to bear it. [Name of plaintiff] is not required to prove physical injury to recover damages for severe emotional distress.

New September 2003

Sources and Authority

  • “ ‘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 v. Western National Life Insurance Co. (1970) 10 Cal.App.3d 376, 397 [89 Cal.Rptr. 78], internal citation omitted.)
  • “Emotional distress” includes any “highly unpleasant mental reactions, such as fright, horror, grief, shame, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, chagrin, disappointment, or worry.” (Fletcher, supra, 10 Cal.App.3d at p. 397.)
  • “With respect to the requirement that the plaintiff show severe emotional distress, this court has set a high bar. ‘Severe emotional distress means “emotional distress of such substantial quality or enduring quality that no reasonable [person] in civilized society should be expected to endure it.” ’ ” (Hughes v. Pair (2009) 46 Cal.4th 1035, 1051 [95 Cal.Rptr.3d 636, 209 P.3d 963].)
  • “ ‘One who has wrongfully and intentionally [suffered severe emotional distress] may recover compensatory damages even though he or she has suffered no physical injury,’ and ‘the right to compensation exists even though no monetary loss has been sustained.’ ” (Grimes v. Carter (1966) 241 Cal.App.2d 694, 699 [50 Cal.Rptr. 808].)

Secondary Sources

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, § 153.26 (Matthew Bender)