SW Legal studies in Business

No Defamation for Claim in Book That Parents of Crime Victim Accepted Private Settlement
Description Court dismissed a defamation suit by the parents of a woman who was, long after her death, shown to have been murdered by a physician in a hospital. A book written about the doctor said that the hospital quietly paid money to the woman's parents. That statement, which caused them humiliation, was not defamatory.
Topic Torts
Key Words Defamation; Defamation per Quod; Libel
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Cindy McGee was severely injured when she was struck by an automobile at age 19. She was treated at the Ohio State University Medical Center where she died two months later. Some years later it was determined that she, and other patients, had been murdered by Dr. Swango, a resident physician at the hospital, who plead guilty to her murder. Simon & Schuster published a book called Blind Eye that was an expose of Swango's long career. The book is highly critical of the medical establishment. The book stated that the parents of McGee "had quietly accepted monetary settlements from Ohio State." Her parents sued the author and publisher of the book for defamation and libel, contending that people interpreted the statement to mean that they were paid "hush money." Defendants moved to dismiss the suit.

Motion granted. For a statement to be libelous, it must be "a false written publication, made with some degree of fault, reflecting injuriously on a person's reputation, or exposing a person to public hatred, contempt, ridicule, shame or disgrace, or affecting a person adversely in his or her trade, business or profession." Plaintiffs have not shown that the publisher and author failed to check the veracity of the statement in the book and failed to show recklessness or malice on their part, so no cause of action was stated. Defamation per quod is defamation determined by the interpretation of the listener, through innuendo. That cause of action can be maintained only with allegations and proof of special damages–a direct financial loss resulting from the plaintiff's impaired reputation. That has not been shown by plaintiffs, so there is no cause of action for that kind of defamation either.

Citation McGee v. Simon & Schuster, Inc., 154 F.Supp.2d 1308 (S.D. Ohio, 2001)

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