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Lets say Jane is late on paying her rent by a few days (Due on the 1st, Grace period til the 4th, Paid on the 7th). Several days after paying, she receives a physical notice on the door demanding payment in 3 days or to turn in the house. The date of the notice says the system printed it on the 7th and the day they put it on the door, the 11th. This causes Jane to go into an anxiety attack which she is already going to therapy for and caused her great emotional distress.

  • Can Jane sue for emotional distress?
  • How likely is she to succeed?
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    You can sue over anything. The real question is if the suit is likely to be successful.
    – nick012000
    Oct 11, 2022 at 19:31
  • If this happened to you, and you think it should be made illegal to protect other renters in the future, you could contact your representative and ask them to introduce a law on this topic. Just because there isn't a relevant law now doesn't mean there can't be one in the future.
    – Someone
    Oct 11, 2022 at 20:47

1 Answer 1

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Can Jane sue for emotional distress?

Anyone who pays the filing fee and delivers a complaint in the proper form to a court clerk can sue for anything.

How likely is she to succeed?

Not very likely at all.

The tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress is not available in this context since there is no relevant physical injury to which it is related (neither her own or someone else's).

The only U.S. state where this theory might succeed under this circumstances is Hawaii and even there, this case would be a stretch because the extreme degree of the emotional distress caused in this case is arguably not foreseeable even if some emotional distress can be expected from all manner of wrongful actions.

So, she is limited to the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress (also called the tort of "outrageous conduct"), which is a calculated and intentional act specifically engineered to cause her in particular emotional harm, rather than incident to some other purpose (lawful or not) (i.e. basically a mean prank).

It is exceedingly unlikely that this is why this happened (and the title to the question implies that it was merely an error on the landlord or the landlord's agent's part). Even if this was a calculated and intentional effort to inflict emotional distress upon her, proving that this is why it happened would be exceedingly hard in most cases (absent some sort of whistleblowing informant).

If she had a lease with a two-sided attorney fees clause and had to hire a lawyer to establish that she paid the rent and can't be evicted, however, she might be able to recover nominal damages of $1 and her attorney fees fighting the acts taken towards a wrongful eviction as a breach of contract.

But emotional distress damages are not available in connection with breaches of contract with only rare and narrow exceptions not applicable here (e.g. bad faith breaches of insurance contracts, contracts to dispose of a deceased person's remains, and perhaps surrogacy contracts).

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    Not necessarily even an error on the landlords part, landlord could have sent notice at 3pm and the tenant paid at 5pm on the 7th, so the notice would have been correct in all particulars when it was sent.
    – jmoreno
    Oct 12, 2022 at 0:41

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