New Theory – Bullying

Well, that isn’t quite right. “Bullying” is just a sub-class of the tort we all know as intentional infliction of emotional distress.

According to press reports of the trial, the plaintiff perfusionist was the subject of a verbal attack by a heart surgeon. The plaintiff claimed that the attack forced him to leave his job.

The jury found the claim meritorious, and awarded the plaintiff $325,000. No punitive damages were awarded. In final argument, the plaintiff’s lawyer called the defendant “a domineering manager who viewed himself as untouchable” who “wanted to put [the plaintiff] in his place when the [he] threatened to tell hospital administrators that [the defendant] had verbally abused other members of his staff.” Read the post-trial press report here.

Believe it or not, there is a Workplace and Bullying Institute and an organization called “Bullybusters” to give support to victims of bullys.

This is a fascinating concept, but one I fear may be misued by lawyers. Remember the standard for intentional infliction of emotional distress – the conduct of the defendant must be outrageous. Tennessee courts have not hesitated to rule that certain conduct is not outrageous as a matter of law. So, before you go off and file this type of lawsuit run it by a dozen or so other lawyers and get some additional opinions about whether the conduct is truly outrageous. Also, research the caselaw in the field carefully. There are only 20 or so intentional infliction of emotional distress cases that are reported in Tennessee. You can read all of them but one in an a couple hours; the longest one is Doe v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville (our firm’s case) and that will take you a good 20 minutes alone.

Finally, remember that this is an intentional tort. There will not be any insurance coverage available to pay a judgment. Moreover, proving respondeat superior will be a challenge in this type of case. Therefore, before you file one of these cases make sure that there are some resources from which your client can collect a judgment.

Thanks to Michael Fox for informing me about this issue.