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Identifying defamation vs. false light claims

On Behalf of | May 7, 2021 | Defamation

Pennsylvania is one of several states allowing defamation and false light claims, as both protect people and entities from different harms resulting from incorrect statements.

Significantly, unlike the law of defamation, false light invasion of privacy offers redress not merely for the publication of matters that are provably false, but also for those that, although true, are selectively publicized in a manner creating a false impression.

What is a defamatory statement?

Defamation is defined as a false statement of fact that exposes a person to contempt, hatred, ridicule, causes them to be ostracized, or harms their business or trade. Some comments are so harmful they are typically always considered defamatory. These statements are referred to as “defamation per se” and wrongly link the plaintiff to:

  • Criminal behavior
  • Having a terrible disease
  • Sexual misconduct
  • Actions or matters incompatible with their profession or business

False light claims

False light is similar to defamation, but instead of dealing with false statements of fact, these cases involve the implications and harm caused by untrue assertions. In general, a false light claim requires each of the following steps:

  1. The defendant published the erroneous information widely, whereas in defamation cases, it may have been sent to only one person
  2. The publication identifies the person or entity targeted
  3. It places the plaintiff in a “false light” that any reasonable person would find offensive
  4. Publishing the bogus statement was the fault of the defendant

For example, an article discussing sex offenders uses a stock photo that includes an individual who is not a sex offender. This could result in a false light claim.

Protect your reputation with knowledgeable legal counsel

A person’s livelihood or their business’s survival can depend upon having a positive public image. If you or your company’s reputation is under attack, it’s advisable to contact an experienced defamation attorney, who understands the nuances of Pennsylvania’s legal system differentiating between defamation and false light actions.