Poole v. Copland, Inc.

Plaintiff sued John Haynes for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and Copland, Inc. for ratification of Haynes’ conduct, negligent retention and supervision of Haynes, and imputed liability.  The plaintiff alleged that Haynes intimidated and harassed her during the one year that she worked for Copland, Inc.  She asked him to stop and reported the incidents to her supervisor.  The supervisor reportedly told her that he was a “youngun” and to ignore him.  After one incident outside of work, she complained to her supervisors.  They had a meeting with the plaintiff and Haynes; Haynes was terminated, and the plaintiff was also terminated later that day.  The plaintiff alleged that the harassment caused her to cry, disturbed her sleep, and gave her nightmares.  She testified to a long history of sexual abuse at the hands of various individuals.  Experts explained that she had a dissociative disorder and the experience of harassment caused a flashback that triggered severe mental problems.  The trial court dismissed all claims except the claim “for intentional infliction of emotional distress against Haynes and the claims against Copland for ratification of Haynes’ conduct and negligent retention of Haynes.”  The jury awarded monetary damages, and the Court of Appeals ordered a new trial, citing an error in the charge.  The North Carolina Supreme Court considered the “thin skull” rule, which “provides that if the defendant’s misconduct amounts to a breach of duty to a person of ordinary susceptibility, he is liable for all damages suffered by the plaintiff notwithstanding the fact that these damages were unusually extensive because of the particular susceptibility of the plaintiff.”  Copland argued that there was error because the jury was permitted to “consider the thin skull damages when it determined the liability issue.”  Copland contends therefore that the jury was able to find liability “without finding that defendant Haynes’ action could have caused severe emotional distress in a person of ordinary susceptibility.”  The court disagreed, noting that a clinical psychologist testified that a person of “ordinary sensibilities” could have been affected in a manner similar to the plaintiff in this case.  It also held that there was no error in the jury instructions, and that the instructions correctly explained that the jury had to find that Haynes’ actions could have reasonably injured a person of normal sensibilities before it could hold him liable for all of the consequences of his actions.  The court also did not review the Court of Appeals finding that the thin skull rule applies to mental, not just physical injury, and that the fact that the jury received instructions during the damages, rather than liability phase of the case, was not error.

Year 

1998

Avon Center work product 

ID 

389