Verbal Assault: When Can You Sue?
We’ve all heard the old adage of, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” While this is all well and good for the vast majority of cases, it’s not always true. Words can have a serious impact on another person. In the worst case scenario, a verbal and emotional abuse can cause physical health problems or stress and anxiety that require therapy to work through. When we talk about personal injury cases, people tend to think of things that cause physical harm to a person, like car accidents or slip and fall accidents. However, there are situations in which you can recover damages for verbal assault.
If you are considering suing for verbal assault, consult a personal injury lawyer because laws regarding lawsuits for verbal statements can be complicated. It’s very important to note that you cannot sue for run-of-the-mill name calling or insults. To be able to sue for verbal abuse or insulting language, it has to involve a person making statements with the intention of causing extreme emotional distress or fear for their own personal safety.
Verbal assaults and insulting language can serve as the basis for an intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) claim. IIED claims are most commonly part of another lawsuit. For example, if you were in a car accident with another person and the other person involved in the accident behaved in a clearly outrageous and unreasonable manner, such as by threatening you with violence, publicly berating you with racial slurs, or making false statements about you specifically to damage your reputation, this could serve as grounds for an IIED claim in addition to your claims for property damage and compensation for medical costs.
There are some situations where IIED claims can be made on their own without being part of another case. However, this would have to involve behavior so extreme and so obviously out of line that any reasonable person would know such behavior could cause extreme distress to another person. For example, let’s say a person gets into an argument with their neighbor over a relatively minor issue like music being played too loudly. If the neighbor reacts by threatening to kill the person and either pointing a gun at them or acting like they were armed, causing the person to have a heart attack out of fear, that could be grounds for an IIED claim.
To have a successful IIED claim based on a verbal assault, you need to be able to prove that the defendant intentionally behaved recklessly, that their behavior was extreme, and that their behavior caused severe distress. Whether or not a person was serious about the things they said does not matter in IIED cases. A person can still be held liable for emotional distress caused by something they said or did as part of a joke if it was so out of line it caused extreme distress. Going back to the example of a person having a heart attack after being threatened with violence, the neighbor could still be held liable even if they said they were just kidding and that they never intended to actually hurt anyone.