We are continuing our discussion of what the press has dubbed the "bad mothering" case. Two children, now adults, sued their mother for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Last week, an Illinois Appellate Court dismissed the case that stemmed from a contentious divorce and stressful custody arrangements.
The complaint failed because the plaintiffs did not argue all of the elements of intentional infliction of emotional distress. This is a legal issue that seldom comes up in family practice, so we're going to take a brief side trip to civil litigation.
A plaintiff must prove three things for a case to move forward. If the plaintiff does not demonstrate to the court that there is enough evidence for a jury to consider, the court will likely dismiss the case. That's what happened here.
The three elements are:
- The conduct the plaintiff complains of must be extreme and outrageous to an average member of the community.
- The defendant must intend the behavior to cause -- or know that there is a high probability the behavior will cause -- severe emotional distress.
- The emotional distress must be "so severe that no reasonable man could be expected to endure it."
Again, the plaintiff must have sufficient evidence to prove all three elements.
One reason the claim is unusual is that this kind of case doesn't come up often -- it's fairly rare for a family member to sue another family member for a personal injury. And that makes sense. When a child slips on a wet kitchen floor, he doesn't hale his mother into court.
There's another problem with the claim, and the plaintiffs' argument on appeal. We'll go into that in our next post.
Chicago Tribune, "'Bad mothering' lawsuit dismissed," Steve Schmadeke, Aug. 28, 2011
Appellate Court of Illinois, First Judicial District, Steven A. Miner II and Kathryn R. Miner v. Kimberly A. Garrity, Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, Aug. 23, 2011