South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Rude and Insensitive Behavior in Business Not Grounds for Mental Distress
Description Texas high court held that extraordinarily rude and insensitive behavior in business, so long as it focused on business and not personal threats, did not rise to the level of action that could support an action for emotional distress.
Topic Torts
Key Words Mental Distress; Extreme and Outrageous Conduct; Business Affairs
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Tiller hired McLure Precast to do $580,000 worth of concrete work at a mini-warehouse project Tiller was building. Shortly after work began, Bill McLure, president of the company, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He died two months later. Other people filled in for McLure, including his wife Barbara, who had worked at the company for many years. During the illness, Tiller badgered Barbara with many calls at home, in the evening, and on Sunday, expressing his unhappiness over the work and threatening to cancel the contract. Tiller yelled at Barbara numerous times, including the day of Bill’s funeral, when Barbara allowed all employees the day off to attend the funeral. When the job was completed, on time, Tiller refused to pay all the money owed. McLure Precast was forced into bankruptcy. Barbara sued Tiller for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury found in her favor and awarded her $2 million. The judge granted Tiller’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The appeals court reversed in favor of Barbara. Tiller appealed.

Reversed. Tiller’s insensitive and rude conduct toward Barbara during the project did not rise to the level of “extreme and outrageous conduct” required to award her damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress. For that to occur, the conduct must go beyond all possible bounds of decency and be regarded as utterly intolerable in a civilized community. Tiller never physically threatened or verbally abused Barbara. His phone calls, while rude, persistent and annoying, concerned the contract, timeliness of work, and workmanship. The fact that Tiller may have breached the contract by refusing to make the final payment is not the basis for mental distress but for a contract action.

Citation Tiller v. McLure, --- S.W.3d --- (2003 WL 21026572, Sup. Ct., Tx., 2003)

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