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Defamation Media: Cases Summarized By Injury Lawyer

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

Defamation Media-Statutes

See Va. Code § 8.01-48 as to mitigation of damages.

See Va. Code § 8.01-49 as to nonliability of radio and TV stations in certain instances.

Defamation Media-Cases

2014 Webb v. Virginian-Pilot Media, 287 Va. 84, 752 S.E.2d 808.
School administrator sues newspaper alleging that newspaper story indicated that he improperly exerted pull to get cushy treatment for his son. The trial court properly ruled that the story cannot be fairly read as a report that the father pulled strings to get his son preferential treatment.

2007 Jackson v. Hartig, 274 Va. 219, 645 S.E.2d 303.
Defamation Media.Candidate for political office filed suit against newspaper that published negative editorial about him. As a public official, he must prove that the defamatory statement was made with actual malice, that is, with actual knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false. This must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. In this case, the plaintiff, as a former school board member, did bear some degree of responsibility for the school board’s budget deficits. As a matter of law, the plaintiff is unable to prove actual malice.

2002 WJLA-TV v. Levin, 264 Va. 140, 564 S.E.2d 383.
Defamation media.Doctor alleged that TV station defamed him by reporting instances of criminal behavior involving pelvic examinations of women for piriformis syndrome. In defamation actions, the negligence standard is expressly limited to circumstances where defamatory statements make substantial danger to reputation apparent. In this case, it is apparent that these statements posed a substantial danger to his reputation as a physician. Where private individual alleges defamation by news media involving a matter of public concern, presumed damages cannot be awarded in the absence of actual malice. Jury issue presented in this case as to actual malice in light of evidence that news station knew that Dr. Fishman had retracted statement made about Dr. Levin that treatment by Dr. Levin was improper. Likewise, the allegation that Levin’s conduct was criminal could be basis for finding actual malice where news station knew that no criminal charges had been brought and knew that Board of Medicine investigation had been dismissed. In this case, the trial court did not err in rejecting station’s argument that statements made in the news story were constitutionally protected opinions.

1987 Richmond Newspapers v. Lipscomb, 234 Va. 277, 362 S.E.2d 32.
Defamation media.Public official may not recover for defamatory comments relating to official conduct unless made with actual malice, i.e., knowledge or reckless disregard. School teacher in this case not public official. The trial court incorrectly applied the New York Times standard. Jury found for plaintiff. Since jury found recklessness, there is subsumed within that finding a finding of negligence.
1985 Great Coastal Express, Inc. v. Ellington, 230 Va. 142, 334 S.E.2d 846.
Defamation media.In libel action by private plaintiff against news media defendant, First Amendment prohibits award of presumed damages unless plaintiff shows that defendant knew publication to be false or evidenced reckless disregard for truth, i.e., New York Times malice. Negligence standard applies where plaintiff is neither public official nor public figure, regardless of whether defendant is media or nonmedia defendant. Negligence standard applies only where defamatory statement makes substantial danger to reputation apparent, determination to be made by trial judge. Where no such danger is apparent, plaintiff may recover only on proof of New York Times malice.

1985 The Gazette, Inc. v. Harris, 229 Va. 1, 325 S.E.2d 713.
Defamation media.Public official cannot recover for defamation relating to official conduct unless proof of actual malice. Actual malice may be proven through deliberate falsification or reckless publication. Standard of proof is clear and convincing evidence. Public figure may recover for defamation upon showing of highly unreasonable conduct constituting extreme departure from standards of investigation and reporting ordinarily adhered to. As long as states do not impose liability without fault they may define for themselves appropriate standard for publisher of defamatory falsehood injurious to private individual. Virginia’s standard is: (1) publication is false and (2) defendant lacked reasonable grounds to believe statement true; or (3) defendant acted negligently in failing to ascertain facts. Negligence standard is expressly limited to circumstances where defamatory statement makes substantial danger to reputation apparent. Trial Judge shall make this determination. If no substantial danger to reputation is apparent, then New York Times actual malice must be established. Negligence standard is applicable to media and nonmedia defendant alike. Accusation of criminal behavior is sufficient to put editor on notice of substantial danger to reputation.

1976 Newspaper Pub’g Corp. v. Burke, 216 Va. 800, 224 S.E.2d 132.
Defamation media.Where events reported are matters of public interest or general concern, plaintiff is required to prove articles were published with actual malice provided plaintiff is either public official or public figure. So long as states do not impose strict liability, they may define for themselves appropriate standard of liability for media, of defamatory falsehood which injures private individual and makes substantial damage to his reputation apparent.

1972 Sanders v. Harris, 213 Va. 369, 192 S.E.2d 754.
Defamation media.Newspaper printed erroneous statement regarding events leading up to meeting of college faculty. These were matters of public or general concern and burden is on person harmed to show actual malice before damages may be recovered.

1961 Story v. Norfolk-Portsmouth Newspapers, 202 Va. 588, 118 S.E.2d 668.
Defendant published, in letters to editor section, letter from citizen who accused plaintiff of being unscrupulous and allowing children to suffer within school system; there was qualified privilege and no showing of malice. Judgement was entered for defendant.

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Defamation Media: Cases Summarized By Injury Lawyer

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