Lady Commits Suicide When Her Landlord Destroys Her Building Around Her

In one of the weirdest fact patterns in a long time the appellate court ruled on intentional infliction of emotional distress is a suicide case. Obviously, the law must accommodate even extremely weird fact patterns and this case is weird. Intentional infliction of emotional distress is an odd, and often maligned, cause of action. People in general, the author included, are very skeptical of emotional distress claims of any sort. Courts are also skeptical. However, in Turcois vs. Debruler the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided a precedent-setting case.
In Turcois the question came up whether a plaintiff in an intentional inflection of emotional distress case can recover for suicide. Obviously, the discusses causation as an issue. The case arose at the motion to dismiss stage, as opposed to the motion for summary judgment stage. Accordingly, all allegations are taken as true by the court.
Plaintiff alleged as follows: plaintiff leased an apartment from the defendants for one year. There’s no suggestion that the plaintiff violated the lease in any way. Nevertheless, within 30 days of moving in the defendant began putting pressure on the plaintiffs to move out. Defendant sent a 30 day notice to vacate, despite the fact that the plaintiffs had a valid lease. Defendants called plaintiff pressuring them to move repeatedly. Exactly one month from the date they moved in Plaintiffs received a notice indicating that they must move out within three weeks. The notice indicated that washers and dryers would be removed. Plaintiffs attempted to pay rent, but the defendant declined to accept the check. Within six weeks of the date they moved in defendants gave plaintiffs a notice indicating the building was going to be demolished. Again, within six weeks of the plaintiffs moving in, the defendant allowed the demolition of the property to proceed around plaintiffs units. The demolition company tore into the outside walls of the building in which plaintiff’s unit was located and then began to demolish the units surrounding her unit. Five days later plaintiff’s decedent committed suicide, leaving a note saying “Please forgive me and my daughters, and you also Carmen. Sell the land and build the house.”
The trial court had concluded that because plaintiffs death as a result of suicide, they could not maintain wrongful death of survival action against the defendant as a matter of law. The appellate court reversed this decision. The appellate court distinguishes between negligence and intentional infliction. The court says that, based on Luss vs. Village of Forest Park, one cannot bring an action for death if one commits suicide in a negligence case. The court reviewed authority from other jurisdictions, including cases from Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Wyoming, California, Indiana, [Kimberlin v Delong] and, more importantly, the Restatement of Torts (Second). The court concluded that the law does not allow the tortfeasor in cases of outrageous conduct of intentional nature to escape liability for that conduct where the tort is a substantial factor in the cause of the suicide. It discussed Section 46 of the Restatement at length.

The court also looked at the defendants arguments on causation. In other words, the defendant argued that by killing himself the defendant broke the chain of causation from the intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court rejected this claim, again because this is not negligence case. The appellate court held that in Illinois, courts do not use an intervening cause analysis in intentional tort cases. The court emphasized its narrow scope of its holding.
This is an extremely unusual case, obviously. The opinion was filed June 11, 2014. I expect it will be appealed to the Illinois state Supreme Court. While the Supreme Court takes less than 1% of cases sought to be appealed, this may be one that takes.
The law, obviously, must accommodate extreme conduct like this. Should a defendant be allowed to escape liability if, for instance, the defendant tortured the plaintiff and plaintiff commits suicide? Maybe not.
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