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WDPA: Destruction of Personal Property Can Serve as Basis for Emotional Distress Tort.

August 12, 2009

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In <i>Seymour v. Life Care Retirement Communities, Inc.</i>, the decedent owned a residential unit and storage garage at a retirement community. Plaintiffs (the decedents' children) alleged that representatives of the retirement community entered their father's storage unit subsequent to his death and discarded his personal property. Plaintiffs further alleged that the retirement community failed to provide them with notice that its representatives would be entering the storage facility. They therefore asserted claims for conversion and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and sought both compensatory and punitive damages.
The retirement community moved to dismiss plaintiffs' emotional distress claim as well as plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages.
The United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania, denied the defendant’s motion in its entirety. In its opinion, the court stated that it could find no edict in Pennsylvania law precluding a claim for the intentional infliction of emotional distress based upon the fact that only personal property was damaged. The court stated that the merits of plaintiff's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress depended on the facts of the case and the state of mind of the retirement community's representatives at the time they discarded the decedent's belongings.
With regard to the plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages, the court held that the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that the conduct of the retirement community's representatives was outrageous, reckless and/or wanton and caused them great emotional distress. As such, based upon the pleadings, the court held that it could not grant the defendant's motion as to plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages.
<b>Thanks to Brad Thelander for his contributions to this post!</b>
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