While most negligence lawsuits deal with physical damages, it is undeniable that emotional distress can take a very real toll on someone's life. Prior to the inception of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress statutes, a case that solely involved emotional damages could not be brought to court.
If, for example, a prankster sends a fictitious letter to a victim claiming that his spouse had perished in a car accident, no material harm has been done. However, significant emotional damage could be suffered as a result. For a successful Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress claim, typically four factors must be proven.
The act was intentional or reckless
Thus, an act needs to be specifically intended to be distressful; if it was reckless and negligent, it may still be considered.
The act was "extreme and outrageous"
The definition of these terms is nebulous at best, and what is "extreme and outrageous" in one setting may be considered acceptable in another. In proving this criterion, having an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side is a great asset.
The act was the cause of the distress
This is typically the easiest to prove; if the action was not what caused the emotional distress, there can be no claim.
The distress was severe
As with the second criterion, this can have a broad array of interpretations. What one court may consider severe enough for damages, another may consider odious but not worth awarding damages.