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Defamation Elements: Cases Summarized By Personal Injury Attorney

The cases below are a compilation of cases from the Virginia Supreme Court summarized by Brien Roche dealing with the topic of Defamation Elements and the related topic of intentional torts.For more information on defamation see the pages on Wikipedia.

Defamation Elements-Cases

2015 Pendleton v. Newsome, 290 Va. 162, 772 S.E.2d 759.
Trial court erred in sustaining demurrer where reasonable inference could be made from statements that defendant was alleging plaintiff bore responsibility for the death of her child. Case is remanded.

2015 Schaecher v. Bouffault, 290 Va. 83, 772 S.E.2d 589.
Statement in email charging that individual plaintiff is “lying” and manipulating facts with the basis for that statement being fully disclosed is not defamatory but rather is opinion.

2013 Cashion v. Smith, 286 Va. 327, 749 S.E.2d 526.
A statement made by a surgeon to an anesthesiologist that the patient could have made it if the anesthesiologist had exercised better resuscitation and further that the anesthesiologist determined from the beginning that the patient was not going to make it and purposely did not resuscitate him are not statements of opinion but rather are statements that are capable of being proven true or false. Rhetorical hyperbole is not defamatory. Such statements are those from which no reasonable inference could be drawn if the individual identified in the statements, as a matter of fact, engaged in the conduct described. Whether a statement is rhetorical hyperbole is a question of law for the court.

2013 Tharpe v. Saunders, 285 Va. 476, 481, 737 S.E.2d 890, 893 (2013).
Saunders is alleged to have made a statement to a county official that Tharpe told Saunders that Tharpe was going to screw this governmental agency just like he did Fort Picket. The insinuation in the statement is that Tharpe had somehow defrauded governmental authority. The elements of defamation are publication of an action- able statement with the requisite intent. The statement must be both false and defamatory. If it is a pure statement of opinion then it is constitutionally protected. In this instance the trial court improperly concluded at the demurrer stage that this was simply an opinion. Regardless of the truth or falsity of the matters asserted in the statement attributed to Tharpe, Saunders’ statement is an actionable statement of fact.

2012 Askew v. Collins, 283 Va. 482, 722 S.E.2d 249.
Private individual may recover compensatory damages for defama- tion upon proof that publication was false and that defendant either knew it was false or believing it to be true, lacked reasonable grounds for such belief, or acted negligently in failing to ascertain the facts on which the publication was based. In this case, there was no challenge to the fact that the statement was defamatory per se. Damage award upheld.

2009 Hyland v. Raytheon Tech. Servs. Co., 277 Va. 40, 670 S.E.2d 746.
Trial court improperly granted summary judgment in this defama- tion case. Trial court should not have looked at portion of statement in isolation but looked at the statement as a whole in terms of determining truth or falsity. It is up to the court to determine whether or not the statement is provably false. If it is, then it may be subject to a defamation claim that then will be decided by the jury as to the truth or falsity of the statement. If the trial court determines that the statement is not provably false, then it in effect becomes a statement of opinion and therefore not subject to a defamation claim. Under common law, the plaintiff must show that the defendant published a false factual statement that concerns and harms the plaintiff or the plaintiffs’ reputation. The plaintiff must show that the defendant knew the statement was false, or believing the statement was true, lacked a reasonable basis for such belief, or acted negligently in failing to determine the facts.

2007 Raytheon Tech. Servs. Co. v. Hyland, 273 Va. 292, 641 S.E.2d 84.
Defamation elements.Whether a defamatory statement is a statement of fact or statement of opinion is for the trial court to decide. Speech that does not contain a provably false factual connotation is sometimes referred to as pure expression of opinion. The following statements were deemed to be statements of opinion:
1. The employee is frequently verbose and vocal in her opinions to a degree that others stop participating.
2. She has received feedback and appears to be unwilling to accept and work with the feedback.
3. She has been inappropriately and openly critical of her leader, her peers, and other leaders in the company. This behavior is not only destructive to the team but also negatively impacts her image in the eyes of others including her customers.

Because these statements were deemed to be statements of opinion, they should not have been submitted to the jury for determination.

1995 Schnupp v. Smith, 249 Va. 353, 457 S.E.2d 42.
Defamation elements.Police officer witnessed supposed drug transaction. Thereafter, he called plaintiff’s employer to advise employer of involvement in drug activity. In order to prove defamation, plaintiff need not prove that statements made by officer made out criminal charge in express terms but simply that they imputed to plaintiff commission of offense.

1987 Sateren v. Montgomery Ward, 234 Va. 303, 362 S.E.2d 324.
Defamation elements.Private plaintiff in libel action against nonmedia defendant need not show special damages in nonlibel per se action. Plaintiff may recover upon showing that defendant published false information knowing it was false when published or believing it to be true lacked reasonable grounds for such belief.

1985 Chaves v. Johnson, 230 Va. 112, 335 S.E.2d 97.
In this case, statement that professional person is inexperienced does not impute unfitness and is not defamatory per se. Mere expressions of opinion, not amounting to fighting, cannot form basis for defamation claim. It is for court to determine whether statement is one of fact or opinion.

1985 The Gazette, Inc. v. Harris, 229 Va. 1, 325 S.E.2d 713.
Plaintiff must show that libel was published of or concerning him, i.e., was intended to refer to him and would be so understood by persons reading it who knew him.

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Defamation Elements: Cases Summarized By Personal Injury Attorney

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