Tort: Intentional Infliction of Harm

Intentional Infliction of Harm

Requirements of the Action

There are three elements to establishing the tort of intentional infliction of harm. The claimant must show that: Wilkinson v Downton [1897] 2 QB 57

  1. The defendant acted in a way which was extreme, outrageous or unjustifiable;
  2. The defendant intended to cause emotional distress; 
  3. The defendant’s actions caused the claimant to suffer physical injury or a clinically-recognised psychiatric disorder or illness.
Outrageous Behaviour
outrageous behaviour, lemon eating

The first requirement is a high threshold. It is not enough that the defendant’s behaviour is offensive or shocking. It must be ‘unambiguously socially unacceptable’, with no ‘justification or reasonable excuse’: Rhodes v OPO [2015] UKSC 32. 

The fact that the statement is true is a strong indicator that there is a justification or reasonable excuse to state it: see Lord Neuberger in Rhodes.

Intention, threat, harm

The defendant must have fully and subjectively intended the distress. It is not enough that he merely foresaw a risk that his actions might cause distress or that distress was objectively likely to happen: Rhodes v OPO [2015] UKSC 32.


Psychiatric Illness
Psychiatric harm, mental illness, mind

Generally, the courts do not allow recovery in tort for mere emotional distress, a rule which apparently applies here: Wainwright v Home Office [2004] 2 AC 406 (HL). However, Lord Neuberger in Rhodes argued obiter that mere distress should be actionable. 

The defendant does not have to intend to inflict psychiatric illness: he must only intend ‘severe’ or ‘significant’ distress: Rhodes v OPO [2015] UKSC 32.

A Fourth Requirement?

Speaking obiter in the Supreme Court decision in Rhodes v OPO [2015] UKSC 32, Lord Neuberger (with whom Lord Wilson agreed) stated that there was an additional requirement that the defendant’s behaviour must have been directed at the claimant, or a small group of people. He argued that statements directed at large groups or the public at large should not be actionable. This requirement has not been echoed by any other cases, however.   


Personal Torts Quiz

Test yourself on the principles of the torts against the person - assault, battery, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of harm.

1 / 21

The police may normally rely on their powers of arrest and stops as a defence to a personal interference tort claim. When is this not the case?

2 / 21

Does the claimant need to be aware they are being detained to establish the tort of false imprisonment?

3 / 21

What state of mind must the defendant possess before a claimant can establish the tort of false imprisonment?

4 / 21

When is an adult competent to give consent to an action which would otherwise constitute a personal interference tort?

5 / 21

Can a claimant give valid consent to an action which causes actual bodily harm or greater in tort?

6 / 21

Which of the following three scenarios cannot constitute an assault?

7 / 21

The claimant moves through a toll booth operated by the defendant. They then decide they want to leave, but the defendant will not let them past unless they pay a small fee. Has the defendant committed the tort of false imprisonment?

8 / 21

When will the defendant be liable for the tort of false imprisonment as a primary defendant (not vicariously) where the detention was imposed by a third-party?

9 / 21

When is a child competent to give consent to an action which would otherwise constitute a personal interference tort?

10 / 21

What must the claimant show to establish the tort of assault?

11 / 21

The claimant has sued the defendant for false imprisonment. They claim that they initially consented to the detention, but later withdrew their consent. The defendant shows that it would be very costly and inconvenient to put this withdrawal of consent into effect. Is the defendant liable for false imprisonment?


12 / 21

A member of the public has the power to enact a citizen's arrest for any offence. True or false?


13 / 21

For the purposes of the tort of battery, has the defendant 'directly' touched the claimant if they do so through an object or by setting a trap to later trigger and touch them?


14 / 21

The defendant performed surgery on the claimant. They first informed the claimant about the nature and purpose of the surgery, but did not inform them of serious risks of injury involved. The claimant agreed to the surgery. The claimant then sues the defendant in the tort of battery, claiming that they did not give valid consent. Is the claimant correct?


15 / 21

In what three situations will the courts label touching as 'hostile' for the purposes of the tort of battery?

16 / 21

The tort of false imprisonment is actionable per se. True or false?

17 / 21

If the defendant touches the claimant accidentally but refuses to end the contact when asked, has the defendant committed the tort of battery?


18 / 21

What three elements must a claimant show to establish the tort of intentional infliction of emotional harm?

19 / 21

When determining if the defence of self-defence or defence of others applies in tort, what facts may be taken into account to judge whether the force was necessary?

20 / 21

For the purposes of the tort of false imprisonment, in which of these scenarios is the claimant 'detained'?

21 / 21

To establish the tort of battery, what three elements must the claimant show?

Your score is