INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF MENTAL DISTRESS
Intentional infliction of mental distress is a battery to the emotions. It arises
from outrageous, intentional conduct that carries a strong probability of
causing mental distress to the person at whom it is directed. Usually, one who
sues on the basis of an intentional infliction of mental distress must prove
that the defendant’s outrageous behavior caused not only mental distress but
also physical symptoms, such as headaches or sleeplessness.
The most common cases of intentional infliction of mental distress (also
called emotional distress ) have concerned employees who have been discriminated
against or fired. Many such cases, however, do not involve the type of
outrageous conduct necessary for the mental distress tort.
This tort usually
requires the plaintiff to
prove not only mental
distress but also
and not unlawful. And to push gently against one, in
the endeavor to make way through a crowd, is no
battery; but to do so rudely and insolently is and may
justify damages proportioned to the rudeness. . . .”
Alabama courts have recognized that privilege can
be a defense to a plaintiff’s claim that the defendant
battered her. This Court has held that when a merchant
suspects a customer of shoplifting, it is reasonable for
the merchant’s employee to use reasonable force to
ensure that the suspected shoplifter is detained.
In this case, there is no question that Wright intended
to touch Harper’s arm; it is the “manner or spirit”
in which Wright touched Harper’s arm that is in dispute.
Harper testified at the June 13, 2000, hearing
that Wright forcefully grabbed her arm. Wright testified
that she reached for Harper’s arm in an attempt to lead
her into her office so they could continue their discussion
away from the public area. In Surrency, we noted
that “to touch another, merely to attract his attention,
is no battery and not unlawful. While it is certainly
>> CASE QUESTIONS
1. The defendant in this case did not hurt the plaintiff, Harper. Explain why the
defendant might still be liable for the tort of battery.
2. Do all touchings constitute a battery? Discuss and give examples to support your
3. In litigation what is the difference between a question of law and a question of
fact? What does the Alabama Supreme Court decide in this case about whether this
alleged battery is a question of law or a question of fact? Discuss.
conceivable that this type of touching is all that occurred
in this case, Harper presents substantial evidence to the
contrary. Harper testified at her hearing that Wright
“jerked” her arm. In her response to Wright’s motion
for a summary judgment, Harper states that Wright’s
touch greatly offended her and that this fact is evidenced
by the fact that she filed her complaint with the
Winston County Commission on May 9, 2000. In her
complaint, Harper states that “[Wright] grabbed my
arm and tried to force me to go with her.” Reviewing
the facts in the light most favorable to Harper, as this
Court is required to do on an appeal from a summary
judgment, we conclude that the question whether a battery
occurred in this case—specifically, whether Wright
touched Harper in a harmful or offensive manner—is a
question of fact for the jury to decide.
We reverse the summary judgment in favor of
Wright on Harper’s assault-and-battery claim; and we
remand this case to the trial court for proceedings consistent
with this opinion.