Appellate Court Update

Current Topic: Personal Injury

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Tort of Outrage

Apr 08, 11

In Little v. Robinson, [Ms. 1090428, Apr. 8, 2011] __ So. 3d __(Ala. 2011), the Alabama Supreme Court considered whether the tort of outrage could be recognized in situations other than those outlined in Potts v. Hayes, 771 So. 2d 462, 465 (Ala. 2000). In Potts, the Court held: “The tort of outrage is an extremely limited cause of action. It is so limited that this Court has recognized it in regard to only three kinds of conduct: (1) wrongful conduct in the family-burial context. . .(2) barbaric methods employed to coerce an insurance settlement. . .and (3) egregious sexual harassment.” After quoting this portion of the Potts decision, the Court held: “That is not to say, however, that the tort of outrage is viable in only the three circumstances noted in Potts.” The Court pointed out that it had upheld a tort of outrage claim in a March 2011 opinion involving a family physician who, under the pretense of counseling a boy about his parents’ divorce, began exchanging prescription drugs for sex with the boy, resulting in the boy’s addiction to the prescription drugs. O’Rear v. B.H., [Ms 1090359, Mar. 11, 2011], __ So. 3d __(Ala. 2011). The Court held that a tort of outrage claim can only be pursued when the conduct “is so outrageous in character and so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society” (citations omitted). In the case at hand, the plaintiff and Defendant, both members of the local government in Anniston, became involved in a confrontation. Plaintiff alleged that the defendant said if a confrontation between he and the plaintiff had gotten ugly, “[w]e’d be having [Plaintiff’s] funeral today.” Plaintiff also alleged that the defendant voted along racial lines at city council meetings, engaged in hate speech against African Americans, and attended a meeting of an organization identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, among other things. The Court noted that the funeral comment was not a threat to kill, presently or prospectively, the plaintiff. The Court also noted that members of local governments frequently cast their votes “along certain socioeconomic, religious, cultural, racial, regional, party or other identifiable line[s],” and that nothing about the votes in question was extreme or outrageous. With regard to the alleged hate group and hate speech, the Court noted that nothing in the record indicates the “nature, extent, context, or egregiousness of [Defendant’s] alleged racial comments.” The Court held that, based on the record presented, the plaintiff failed to make a viable tort of outrage claim.

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