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Defamation Slander Per Se Cases Summarized

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

Defamation Slander Per Se-Cases

2011 Lewis v. Kei, 281 Va. 715, 708 S.E.2d 884.
Police officer obtained a warrant for arrest of plaintiff for attempted abduction of a 10-year-old child based upon citizen’s complaint which ultimately proved to be unfounded. Based on those facts, the officer had probable cause to seek the arrest warrant and therefore demurrer to malicious prosecution claim was properly granted. Likewise, the finding of probable cause defeats the claim for false imprisonment. The police officer, however, did make several false statements about the plaintiff relating to the facts of the matter thereby accusing him of the commission of a criminal offense constituting defamation per se.

2006 Tronfeld v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 272 Va. 709, 636 S.E.2d 447.
Defamation slander per se.In this defamation action brought by an attorney against the insurance company and its adjuster plaintiff claimed that statements made by the adjuster that plaintiff personal injury attorney “just takes people’s money” and that the injured persons “would receive more money if they did not hire plaintiff” were defamatory. Those statements were not just statements of opinion but had a provable basis in fact and could prejudice plaintiff in his profession, justifying an action for defamation.

1998 Yeagle v. Collegiate Times, 255 Va. 293, 497 S.E.2d 136.
Defamation slander per se. University official was identified in student newspaper as “Director of Butt Licking.” To be defamatory statement must contain provable false factual connotation. Speakers may use language that is insulting, offensive or inappropriate but constitutes no more than “rhetorical hyperbole.” Referring to negotiating position of real estate developer as blackmail, defining union scab as traitor, or publishing parody of advertisement of public figures is not defamatory. In this case whether comment could reasonably be interpreted as stating actual facts about Yeagle and therefore be actionable, is matter of law to be resolved by trial court. In this case “Director of Butt Licking” is no more than rhetorical hyperbole.

1997 Perk v. Vector Resources Group, 253 Va. 310, 485 S.E.2d 140.
Defamation slander per se.Plaintiff in this case is attorney. He alleges that new attorney who replaced him told debtors of this client that certain payments the debtors had made to plaintiff had not been reported to client by plaintiff. These statements are not defamatory per se, and therefore demurrer properly sustained.

1985 Great Coastal Express, Inc. v. Ellington, 230 Va. 142, 334 S.E.2d 846.<
Defamation slander per se is: (1) imputation of criminal offense involving moral turpitude for which he may be indicted and punished, (2) imputation of contagious disease which would exclude person from society, (3) imputation of unfitness to perform duties of office for profit, or want of integrity in discharge of duties of such office, (4) words that prejudice person in profession or trade. Examples of moral turpitude: petty larceny, false statement to obtain unemployment benefits; contributing to delinquency of minors may be. Drunkenness, assault and battery, and gambling are not crimes of moral turpitude. Question of what is a crime of moral turpitude is for court. In action brought by private individual involving no matters of public concern, if words are actionable per se then compensatory damages are presumed. Private plaintiff must still prove negligence as predicate of recovery even if words are actionable per se.

1981 Fleming v. Moore, 221 Va. 884, 275 S.E.2d 632.
For words to be defamation slander per se on grounds they prejudice plaintiff in his profession, there must be nexus between content of defamatory statement and skills or character required in plaintiff’s work. Slander per se imputes: (1) criminal offense involving moral turpitude; (2) infection with some contagious disease; (3) unfitness to perform duties or want of integrity in discharge of duties; or (4) prejudice of person in profession or trade. Use of term “racism” in connection with plaintiff is not libel per se.

1959 Weaver v. Beneficial Fin. Co., 200 Va. 572, 106 S.E.2d 620.
Defamation slander per se.Letter by creditor to employer of alleged debtor that employee is in default on repayment of loan and has refused to answer correspondence in regards to debt, wherein letter does not suggest dishonesty, insolvency or bankruptcy, nor allege that debtor is in vocation where credit is necessary, is not libelous per se. If no special damages are alleged, then it is not actionable.

1954 Carwile v. Richmond Newspapers, 196 Va. 1, 82 S.E.2d 588.
At common law defamatory words that are actionable per se are: (1) those which impute commission of crime of moral turpitude for which he may be indicted and punished; (2) those which impute that person has some contagious disease where if charge were true, he would be excluded from society; (3) those which impute unfitness in office or lack of integrity in office; (4) those which prejudice such person in his or her trade or profession. Defamatory charge may be made by inference, implication or insinuation. Although statement in this case did not expressly charge plaintiff with breach of his professional honor, when aided by innuendo, it does impute conduct tending to injure him in his profession.

1944 M. Rosenberg & Sons v. Craft, 182 Va. 512, 29 S.E.2d 375.
Slander per se consists of four categories: (1) commission of crime of moral turpitude; (2) infected with contagious disease which if true would result in exclusion from society; (3) unfitness or lack of integrity to perform duties of office: (4) words which prejudice such party in his profession.

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Defamation Slander Per Se Cases Summarized

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