Monday, February 18, 2013

Defamation - Part IV: You Talkin' About Me?

To be actionable, a defamatory statement must be about an identifiable person.

If I say or write "John Quinzy, who lives at 2248 Saverac Lane, Oswego, NM, is a child molester," the statement is obviously about a specific person.  There is no question about whom the statement was made.

But what if the statement was "John is a child molester"?  Who was the statement about?

If it can be determined from the context that the statement is about a particular person - John Quinzy, for example, then the statement can be found to be actionable and John Quinzy can sue.

Who makes that decision?  It is a 2-part analysis.  First, the judge must make the determination as to whether reasonable people could interpret the statement as being about the plaintiff in the case.

If the court is satisfied that, from the context, that the statement "John is a child molester" could reasonably be found to mean John Quinzy, then the case goes to the jury.  It is then up to the jury to decide if the statement actually referred to the plaintiff.

So, what if the writer thinks he will be really smart, and simply not name John Quinzy.  I'll deal with that issue in the next post.

photo credit: <a href="">Shohei Hanazaki</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

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