Harris v. Jones

Court of Appeals of Maryland, 1977.

281 Md. 560, 380 A.2d 611.

Prosser, p. 54-57


Facts: Harris was teased by Jones for his stuttering.Harris claimed that the teasing worsened the condition and caused him emotional distress.The jury found for the plaintiff, but was overruled in the Court of Special Appeals.The plaintiff appealed to the Court of Appeals of Maryland.


Issue: Was the emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff ďsevereĒ?


Rule: An action for intentional infliction of mental distress must contain four elements: (1) intentional or reckless conduct, (2) extreme and outrageous conduct, (3) a causal connection between the conduct and the distress, (4) distress that can be considered severe.


Analysis: The court argues that in deciding whether the distress was severe, the situation canít be studied in a vacuum.Because the plaintiff had problems that preceded his employment and the place of employment was kind of a rough place, there hadnít been enough evidence introduced that the distress could be considered severe.


Conclusion: The court affirmed the reversal of the Court of Special Appeals.


Notes and Questions


1.        What constitutes extreme conduct?Sexual propositions apparently do not.

2.        Courts are reluctant to intervene in family disputes except in extreme situations.

3.        It seems filing a lawsuit cannot be held to be extreme behavior.However, it looks like courts themselves can be seen to go overboard in punishing jurors for contempt.

4.        The workplace is becoming more and more regulated and more and more subject to the power of the courts.

5.        If the plaintiff was mistaken as to whether there was any risk of infection, then we could decide that his own ignorance is his own fault.

6.        Letís find the common thread, if there is one.

A.   This dealt with a business relationship.

B.    Here the defendant is misrepresenting himself and scaring the plaintiff for personal gain.

C.   Here it doesnít seem as though the defendants gained anything, unless they were trying to entertain themselves (perhaps in a prurient way).

D.   In carrying out normal business, you canít be outrageous.Here, they talk about bill collectors

E.    Here they talk about insurance adjusters.

F.    It doesnít seem like these cases have much in common at all.

7.        We take into account the plaintiffís sensibilities when deciding if behavior is outrageous or if their distress is severe.

8.        The courts seem to recognize that people are particularly sensitive about religion and race, and are more likely to allow a cause of action for racial or religious insults.

9.        Pregnant women are presumably especially physically sensitive, so behavior that would not be outrageous otherwise may be outrageous when directed at a pregnant woman.

10.   If youíre physically sensitive in any way, behavior that might otherwise be uncalled for but not outrageous ends up going beyond reasonable bounds.

11.   I think people should be sensitive to the idiosyncrasies of others.It should be considered outrageous to humiliate someone based on the exploitation of a particular idiosyncrasy.


Back to Intentional Infliction of Mental Distress

Back to Casebook Notes