Slocum v. Food Fair Stores of Florida

Supreme Court of Florida, 1958.

100 So.2d 396.

Prosser, p. 51-53


Facts: An employee of the defendant insulted the plaintiff while she was inquiring about a price of an item in the defendant’s store.  The plaintiff claimed that the language caused her to suffer a heart attack and other injuries.  The defendant moved to dismiss the suit based on failure to state a cause of action.  The motion was granted, and the plaintiff appealed.


Issue: Does insulting language constitute a violation of a legally protected right?  In other words, does it constitute a tort in itself?


Rule: An action for intentional infliction of mental distress may lie if the distress is severe, or if an insult is suffered by a patron of a common carrier such as an employee of a hotel, theater, or telegraph office.


Analysis: The court asserts that a line should be drawn between emotional distress that is severe and distress that is not severe.  The line that the court chooses is that “there is liability only for conduct exceeding all bounds which could be tolerated by society”.  The court further determines that mere vulgar insults do not exceed such bounds.


Conclusion: The motion to dismiss is affirmed.


Notes and Questions


1.     Insult by itself is not a tort because it is not entirely beyond the pale of acceptability.

2.     Magruder thus argues that insults and cursing can actually sometimes be positive, and thus it is not at all in the court’s interest to restrict such behavior broadly.  In fact, he suggests, allowing insults and cursing may actually prevent more destructive torts.

3.     Based on the present case, the South Carolina gentleman would not be liable, because he merely insulted the woman and there was absolutely no threat of physical force.

4.     We might ask if the language itself matters.

5.     This would appear to be the famous exception for “fighting words”.

6.     It looks like the standard for common carriers is not at all uniform.


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