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Harm to Reputation Must Be Proven in Libel Per Quod Suit
Description Iowa high court dismissed suit against newspaper by attorney who claimed reputation harm due to accidental listing of him as having filed bankruptcy. Absent showing of reputational harm for, at most, negligent action by paper, there can be no damages.
Topic Torts
Key Words Libel, Reputational Harm
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Schlegel, an attorney in Ottumwa, Iowa, was reported, in the local paper, to have declared bankruptcy, when in fact he was representing a bankrupt client. The paper printed a front page retraction and apology the next day. Schlegel and his wife sued the paper and its editor for defamation, damage to reputation, and loss of consortium. The jury awarded Schlegel $230,000 damages, his wife $150,000 damages, plus $2 million punitive damages. The trial court set aside part of the jury verdict. The paper appealed.
Decision This is a libel case, so plaintiff must show libel per se, such as attack on integrity and moral character, or libel per quod, which "simply means that one must refer to facts or circumstanced beyond the words actually used to establish the defamation," which means plaintiff must prove damage to reputation. Hurt feelings alone will not do, so his wife cannot recover. If Schlegel is a private figure, he is only required to prove the paper was negligent in publishing the incorrect report. There is insufficient evidence of reputational harm; that would have to be proven before there could be any punitive damages. The entire case should be dismissed.
Citation Schlegel v. Ottumwa Courier, --N.W. 2d -- (1998 WL 733682, Sup. Ct., Iowa)
585 N.W.2d 217 (Sup. Ct., Iowa, 1998)

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