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Widener Univ. School of Law

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Thursday, February 2, 2006

Pieces of Emotional Distress

I don't think I've yet noted the various lawsuits about James Frey's book A Million Little Pieces; Overlawyered has done quite a bit on it.  Without getting into whether such lawsuits are a Good Idea (tm), one claim that I haven't seen yet -- suggested by one of my students -- is for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Stay with me here for a bit.  Recall first that the intent standard for IIED is typically reckless disregard, not actual intent to cause distress.  Consider also the fact that the book was about addiction and marketed as an inspiring story, especially for people going through some of the same experiences Frey went through (whichever of those experiences were in fact true).  Given that marketing, there's knowledge of a particularly susceptible population who are relying upon the book and (maybe) knowledge of a risk of serious distress to readers who discover the fiction.

Of course the real question is whether the conduct of publishing fictional material as nonfiction is outrageous to the relatively high level required for IIED, and whether the plaintiffs in fact suffered the severe level of emotional distress required.  Most likely a small percentage (at most) of those who are bringing suit can support those factual allegations.  But it may be, for those plaintiffs, a better claim than many of the claims out there (value of time spent reading, etc.).

Update: This FindLaw piece by Anita Ramasastry (Washington) does a nice job of methodicall working through the claims that have been made in lawsuits filed thus far.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/tortsprof/2006/02/pieces_of_emoti.html

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