Always a Bridesmaid, Never the Plaintiff... Until Now?

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Your wedding day: beautiful chapels, extravagant presents, loving family and friends, intentional infliction of emotional distress? Wait, what was that last one? That’s right! The newest form of legal worries for today’s modern single gal is the tort of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED). It seems that this season, bridesmaids suing brides is the new white. Bridesmaids could theoretically sue "bridezillas" under a theory of IIED for the emotional pain and suffering that they were forced to endure while planning and attending the wedding — if that was the bride’s goal. So how successful will these actions be? Let’s examine the borrowed and the blue. Is it a nice day for a white wedding?

The tort of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress has four elements: (1) the defendant must act intentionally or recklessly; (2) the defendant's conduct must be extreme and outrageous; and (3) the conduct must be the cause (4) of severe emotional distress. Unfortunately case law does not give us an exact definition of what constitutes "extreme and outrageous", but one that has been adopted in most jurisdictions is "so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community." Now of course crafty lawyers can pull and stretch this concept to include a wide variety of actions, but IIED for a bridesmaid? Really? That still sounds a little far fetched to this author, but we shouldn’t cut the cake just yet.

Most brides have the stereotypical white wedding at a chapel to celebrate the union of two like souls. These brides should have no problem defending themselves against the claim of IIED because their conduct is not even arguably outrageous to anyone. However some brides have over the top, lavish and extremely fancy weddings with hundreds of family and friends, elegantly cooked dinners, open bars, and enough blown up photos of the couple to make you wish them anything but wedded bliss. These brides may be in the smaller sector that these law suits could touch, especially if this is their second, third, or fourth wedding that they have forced their allegedly bridesmaid "best friends" to attend. There are two questions that these bitter bridesmaids should ask themselves: How outrageous was the conduct? And how did it cause the severe emotional distress?

The bride’s conduct may not sound too outrageous in the everyday sense (I mean after it all it’s just a wedding!), but the conduct taken in certain contexts may make it cross the line. When two people are in love and decide to get married, it is their soul’s recognition of its counterpart in another (quoted from the love guru himself Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers). A wedding is just the formal process by which the state gives you a document to express your love. It can be done at a courthouse in as little as 25 minutes. So is there really a need to throw a lavish, over the top, "make my friends jealous" type of wedding? Some bridesmaids certainly do not think so. This would be a stretch. But even if a bridesmaid was able to prove the bride’s actions constituted outrageous conduct, she would still have to prove that she actually has severe emotional distress over the innocent.

Severe emotional distress over one of your best friends getting married? How? Imagine you’re a lonely single girl looking for romance with no luck. Now imagine how annoying the holidays like Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas make you feel even more lonely and more depressed. Now imagine one of your allegedly friends one day decides to throw in your face a big lavish wedding that’s just going to make you feel even MORE single and lonely. The last offending punch? They put you in the ugliest dress they could find while they slyly smile and say it’s something that looks great on everyone! Of course these bridesmaids are just thinking, "this devil in the white dress is doing more than just telling a white lie! This is just too close to 27 dresses to bear!"

Conduct still sounds so innocent, or maybe slightly over the wed-ge? Exactly their point! However, IIED is not something that courts like to take a very lenient stance on. Most court decisions reflect the idea that the defendant’s conduct must be more than just a little malicious and intentional, and "liability does not extend to mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, or petty oppressions." Courts generally feel that many frivolous claims are filed for IIED, and it clearly has the potential for abuse.

So unfortunately for all those of you who are always the bridesmaid and never the bride, most of these actions probably won’t constitute a winning IIED claim. The New York Court of Appeals, the second highest court in this state, has repeatedly stated that most IIED claims fail "because the alleged conduct was not sufficiently outrageous." To meet the element of conduct that is so over the top outrageous as "to go beyond the bounds of civilized society" is almost prohibitively difficult. So single bridesmaids may have to find another way to deal with their emotional distress this wedding season because it does not look like the courtrooms are going to provide them with the relief they desire. At least the brides-to-be have one more reason to be happy this wedding season: their single friends probably won’t be able to sue them for having a big lavish in your face wedding!


Restatement (Second) of Torts section 46 cmt. d (1965)

Viehweg v. Vic Tanny Intern. of Missouri, Inc., 732 S.W.2d 212, 213 (Mo.App.1987)

Howell v. New York Post, 81 N.Y.2d 115, 612 N.E.2d 699, 596 N.Y.S.2d 350 (1993)

Hyatt, 943 S.W.2d at 297

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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.