Brief Fact Summary. Dickens (Plaintiff) filed suit against Defendants after being beaten by the male perpetrator, who had learned that the Plaintiff had shared sex, alcohol, and marijuana with the perpetrators’ 17 year-old daughter. The Wake Superior Court (North Carolina) granted summary judgment to the perpetrators on the ground that the suit was time-barred, and the judgment was affirmed by the court of appeals. The victim appealed to the Supreme Court of North Carolina.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A threat of future harm that is apparently intended to and which does inflict mental distress is actionable as an intentional infliction of mental distress.
Issue. For a cause of action alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress, need the threat be immediate?
Held. The Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling that affirmed summary judgment in favor of Puryear and remanded. The court affirmed the prior decision granting summary judgment in favor of the female perpetrator.
Discussion. A threat of future harm may be sufficient for a cause of action. This is an especially challenging issue that has received increasing attention. The problem often arises in the toxic tort or defective product context. Often, courts are reluctant to permit recovery due to the difficulty of measuring damages, potentially crushing liability, and serious proof problems such as the possibility of multiple causes.