Libel and slander are subsets of the broader tort of defamation of character that centers around false statements that damage the reputation of an individual. The only difference between libel and slander pertains to the medium through which the statements are made. Slander refers to injurious statements that are spoken aloud and that are not preserved or reproduced on paper or electronically. Libel refers to such statements that are expressed in a writing, a picture, a sign, or an electronic broadcast. Media such as local Toledo and Northwest Ohio television and radio stations, newspapers, and magazines are all capable of making libelous statements, and through the courts, can be held accountable for their actions.
Besides the torts of libel and slander, the State of Ohio, including Toledo, Ohio, also recognizes four distinct torts which fall under the broad category of invasion of privacy. Those four torts (civil wrongs) are: (1) intrusion upon the plaintiff's seclusion or solitude, or into his private affairs; (2) public disclosure of embarrassing private facts about the plaintiff; (3) publicity that places the plaintiff in a false light in the public eye; and (4) appropriation, for the defendant's advantage, of the plaintiff's name or likeness. These privacy-related torts are discussed later in this article.
The elements of a defamation action, whether libel or slander, are that: (1) the defendant made a false and defamatory statement concerning another; (2) the false statement was published; (3) the plaintiff was injured; and (4) the defendant acted with the required degree of fault. "Injury" in this context refers to damage to a person's reputation, exposure of the person to public hatred, contempt, ridicule, shame, or disgrace, or harm to the person in his or her trade or business.
As stated earlier, libel differs from slander only in the fact that while the false statements in a slander action are spoken aloud, the false statements in an action for libel are recorded or published. Examples of this would be false statements in a magazine, film, radio program, television show, or even a billboard or cartoon. So, for example, an article or letter in a Toledo, Ohio newspaper or a newscast on a Northwest Ohio radio or television station, accusing your auto repair business of making shoddy repairs, if false, may form the basis of an action for libel.
Not every statement that may damage a person's reputation is actionable. For example, if the statement is substantially true, then it will not be actionable as libel or slander, although it may be actionable as an invasion of privacy, depending upon all the facts and circumstances surrounding the statement. Additionally, a defamation claim will not be successful where the speaker has some privilege. For example, statements made in the course of litigation are generally protected. Also, only false statements of fact are actionable; expressions of opinion or personal taste are not. Thus a restaurant critic's review of your restaurant in Toledo or Findlay or Lima or elsewhere in Ohio which states that your food is not tasty would not be actionable, while the same critic's statement that your restaurant was infested with cockroaches, if false, would be actionable.
Depending upon the nature of the false statement, you may or may not have to prove that you were damaged. For example, if the statement accused you of committing a serious crime, of having a loathsome disease, or if the accusations reflected negatively on your business or profession, it will be presumed that you have been damaged. Of course, if you can prove specifically how you were damaged, your recovery may be greater than if you cannot.
In Ohio, the tort of invasion of privacy actually includes four distinct torts (civil wrongs): (1) intrusion upon the plaintiff's seclusion or solitude, or into his private affairs; (2) public disclosure of embarrassing private facts about the plaintiff; (3) publicity that places the plaintiff in a false light in the public eye; and (4) appropriation, for the defendant's advantage, of the plaintiff's name or likeness. Of these four torts, only the third requires that the statements must be false. Even true statements can (and generally do) form the basis of the other three torts, or in the case of the first of these torts, intrusion, there need be no statement at all.
A brief description of each of these torts follows. Of course, these brief summaries are just that, and only an Ohio attorney such as Attorney Sobecki of Toledo, Ohio, who is experienced in this area of law, can tell you whether you do or do not have a case in Ohio under the particular facts and circumstances of your situation.
Intrusion upon Seclusion - Examples of intrusion into seclusion might include watching or photographing a person through the windows of his home, wiretapping a telephone, opening another's mail, or searching another's wallet. In Ohio, the intrusion is actionable only if it would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.
Public Disclosure of Private Facts - This tort requires publication of a matter concerning the private life of another if the matter publicized is of a kind that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and is not of legitimate concern to the public. Examples of this tort might include public disclosure of the private sexual affairs of another.
False Light - One who gives publicity to a matter concerning another that places the other before the public in a false light is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the false light in which the other was placed would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and the actor had knowledge of or acted in reckless disregard as to the falsity of the publicized matter and the false light in which the other would be placed.
Appropriation - Appropriation occurs when the plaintiff's name or likeness is published for the purpose of taking advantage of the reputation, prestige, or other value associated with him or her, for purposes of commercial benefit to the defendant. It is insufficient to merely claim that one's name or his appearance has been brought before the public, since neither is in any way a private matter and both are open to public observation. It is only when the publicity is given for the purpose of appropriating to the defendant's benefit the commercial or other value associated with the name or the likeness that the right of privacy is invaded. So, for example, a newspaper in Toledo or elsewhere in Ohio may safely publish the likeness and name of a University of Toledo athlete in an article reporting the results of a football game or other newsworthy event, while the same newspaper may be held liable for appropriation if it publishes that same player's likeness or name (without consent) in an advertisement soliciting subscriptions to the newspaper.
False statements about you or your business can ruin your hard-earned reputation and even lead to loss of employment or the failure of your business. Even if you are merely an individual whose personal reputation has been falsely attacked, you have the right not to be unfairly subjected to embarrassment, ridicule, scorn, and derision based upon false statements about you.
Defamation law presents a complex balancing of two basic rights: freedom of speech and the individual's right to protection against harm to reputation. Arising out of constitutional concerns over dampening our First Amendment freedoms, Ohio and federal courts have established limits on the ability of the victims of libel or slander to hold their tormentors liable for what they say and publish. This is particularly so when the victims are public figures or public officials, but even where only purely private persons are involved, the courts apply a heightened standard of proof to certain elements of the claim. Media outlets have a wide variety of defenses they can use to shield themselves from defamation claims. It takes an experienced lawyer well-versed in both constitutional law and the common law of defamation and invasion of privacy to effectively navigate this complex area.
The advent of the Internet age has done nothing to make life easier for the victims of false allegations. It is the nature of the Internet that any ordinary person now has the ability to publish statements, true or false, across the world in an instant, where they will linger in cyberspace for years. A blogger sitting at a keyboard in Fostoria may make false accusations against a business located in Toledo, Ohio, which will be read five minutes later, or five years later, by a potential customer in Bowling Green. Theoretically, in the context of defamation law, the rights of bloggers, Internet message board posters, and social media users are generally no greater and no less than those enjoyed by users of more traditional media. However, practical realities mean that successfully bringing actions against Internet-based writers and speakers requires understanding new legal complexities and meeting new challenges in the day-to-day outworking of the case.
Whether you are a public official or ordinary citizen, and whether your claim for defamation or invasion of privacy involves publication by traditional or Internet media or purely verbal utterances by other private individuals, understanding the often fine nuances of law involved in prosecuting or defending against such claims may make the difference between winning or losing your case. I have 34 years of experience here in Toledo and throughout Ohio dealing with these kinds of cases. I represent employees, executives, businesses, and private individuals harmed by defamation, including such things as disparagement of products and services or intrusion into the private lives of individuals. I provide vigorous, personal representation focused on obtaining compensation for the harm caused to your reputation. In many cases, I can also help you try to repair the damage which has already been done to your personal, business, or professional reputation.
If you believe that you have been libeled or slandered, or that your privacy has been unlawfully invaded, I urge you to call my office and set up an appointment to meet with me. While no attorney can guarantee any particular result in any particular case, my long experience in dealing with defamation and invasion of privacy cases affords you the greatest likelihood of a successful resolution of your situation. I accept cases in Toledo, Ohio, throughout the State of Ohio, and also in other states.
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