WA Tort of Outrage: A Brief History

Under Washington State laws, how has the tort of outrage evolved? Here's my
point of view (NOTE: please read our DISCLAIMER before proceeding).



Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) is also known as the tort of outrage. A tort is a civil wrong, other than breach of contract, for which remedies may be obtained. To prevail on a claim for outrage, a plaintiff must prove the following three elements:
  1. extreme and outrageous conduct
  2. intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress, and
  3. severe emotional distress on the part of the plaintiff
See Robel v. Roundup Corporation, 148 Wn.2d 35 (Wash. 2002).


"Liability for outrage is of ancient lineage." Contreras v. Crown Zellerbach Corporation, 88 Wn.2d 735, 738, 565 P.2d 1173 (Wash. 1977). "The law in the classical age of the Roman Empire allowed recovery for outrage or insult as the delict of 'iniuria.' " Id.  "It required an intent to insult and that anger be shown as soon as the facts were known." Id. "Intent to insult, however, could be presumed from the facts, which spoke for themselves." Id. at 738-39. "Defamation under Roman law was also a case of 'iniuria,' where the basis of liability was not loss of reputation but outrage to feelings." Id. "Publication to a third party was thus arguably unnecessary." Id. (citing W. Buckland and A. McNair, Roman Law and Common Law 295-300 (1936)).

According to the Washington State Supreme Court:

Acceptance of the tort of outrage has undergone a remarkable evolutionary process in the United States in a relatively short time. Section 46 of the Restatement of Torts in its original form stated flatly there was no liability for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, or for bodily harm resulting from it, except in cases of assault and of the special liability of carriers covered in section 48.

 Id. at 739, 565 P.2d 1173.

However, "[t]his position was reversed in the 1948 supplement and the comments were completely rewritten." Id. (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 46 at 21 (Tent. Draft No. 1, 1957)). The Contreras court explained as follows:

The Restatement and courts supporting it have since drastically changed their position, from denial of liability for intentionally inflicting emotional distress to the allowance of liability against one who intentionally caused emotional distress without privilege to do so, and later to the present rule which requires that the conduct be extreme and outrageous Before liability will attach.

Id. (citing Pakos v. Clark, 253 Or. 113, 453 P.2d 682 (1969)).


If you would like to learn more, then consider contacting an experienced Washington State Attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case. Please note: the information contained in this article is not offered as legal advice and will not form an attorney-client relationship with either this author or Williams Law Group, PS; please see our DISCLAIMER.

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