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Intentional Infliction of
Emotional Distress

by Wes Cowell; updated 6 June 2015


Alienation of affections suits were abolished in Illinois 1/1/2016.  Since then, jilted spouses have had to fall back on"intentional infliction of emotional distress" to file suits against interloping paramours for themselves and on behalf of their children.  Need advice? Callleave your info, or schedule a consult.


To make a case for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff must prove all of the elements of the offense, including “extremely outrageous conduct” and the actual suffering of emotional distress.  In McGrath v. Fahey, the Illinois Supreme Court set forth the elements necessary to state a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, stating:


‘First, the conduct involved must be truly extreme and outrageous.  Second, the actor must either intend that his conduct inflict severe emotional distress, or know that there is at least a high probability that his conduct will cause severe emotional distress.  Third, the conduct must, in fact, cause severe emotional distress.” 


McGrath v. Fahey, 126 Ill.2d 78, 533 N.E.2d 806, 127 Ill.Dec. 724 (Ill., 1988)


In considering the actual suffering, the court looks to the intensity and duration of the bad conduct – the resulting distress must be so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.  The McGrath court said:  “Illinois case law makes clear that under no circumstances would mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, petty oppressions or other trivialities qualify as outrageous conduct.  Rather, the nature of the defendant’s conduct must be so extreme as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as intolerable in a civilized community.”


A pattern of abuse may take several smaller slights and indignities and raise them to the level of “outrageous.”   It is not necessary that each individual act must be outrageous.  Rather, the cumulative nature of the pattern of acts may be sufficient to raise a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.  As an example, in Feltmeier v. Feltmeier, the court considered


“. . . more than a decade of verbal insults and humiliations with episodes where freedom of movement was deprived and where physical injury was often inflicted.  The pattern of abuse, combined with its duration, worked a humiliation and loss of self-esteem.  Regardless of the form in which it arrived, violence was certain to erupt, and when seasons of spousal abuse turn to years that span the course of a decade, we are unwilling to dismiss it on grounds that it is unworthy of ‘outrage.’”


Feltmeier v. Feltmeier, 207 Ill.2d 263, 798 N.E.2d 75, 278 Ill.Dec. 228 (Ill., 2003)


When the abusive conduct is ongoing, the statute of limitations (two years) doesn’t begin to run until the alleged conduct ceases.  The Feltmeier case was filed more than a year after the divorce was concluded.  The former wife alleged acts that occurred more than two years before the lawsuit was filed; that is, during the last year of the marriage and prior to the judgment dissolving the marriage.  The Illinois Supreme Court said that the former wife could rely on ALL incidents occurring throughout the eleven-year marriage because the lawsuit was filed prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations.



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