Eldridge was hired to get a photo of Womack to use in a sexual molestation case, so she posed as a news reporter writing an article on Womack’s place of employment. The photograph was unsuccessful at trial and resulted in dragging Womack into the case when his only nexus to the case was that he worked at the same place where Seifert was arrested. Womack suffered great shock, distress, and nervousness because of Eldridge’s fraud and deceit and how his community might perceive him as a child molester.
A cause of action will lie for emotional distress, unaccompanied by physical injury, provided the following elements are shown:
Eldridge is a private investigator for attorneys. Seifert and his attorney hired Eldridge to get a photo of Womack to use in a sexual molestation case. To get the photo, Eldridge went to Womack’s house and posed as a news reporter writing an article on Skateland, where Womack worked as a coach.
Seifert and his attorney unsuccessfully used the photograph in the trial to help the young boys identify Womack as the man who molested them. The prosecutor asked to see the photograph and have additional information about Womack, which Eldridge supplied on the stand. Apparently, Womack was only targeted because he was at Skateland while Seifert was arrested, but the offenses charged did not occur at Skateland.
Thereafter, Womack was called multiple times as a witness for Seifert’s case, suffering great shock, distress, and nervousness because of Eldridge’s fraud and deceit and how his community might perceive him.
Should someone be held liable for extreme and outrageous conduct that intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to another absent any bodily injury?
Reversed for Womack with jury verdict reinstated.
While this case was a matter of first impression for the Virginia Supreme Court, the Court noted that most other courts presented with the same issue have allowed recovery when the wrongful act was intentional and the wrongdoer desired the emotional distress or knew or should have known that it would likely result.
The judge decides whether the defendant’s conduct may reasonably be regarded as so extreme or outrageous as to permit recovery. Where reasonable men would differ, the jury decides.
Here, reasonable men would differ, so it was the jury’s responsibility to decide whether the conduct could reasonably be regarded as so extreme or outrageous as to permit recovery. The record showed that Womack’s only connection to Seifert’s case was that he was employed at the Skateland where Seifert was arrested. A reasonable person should have recognized the likelihood of serious mental distress that a person would suffer from if involved as an innocent person in child molesting cases.