South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Defamation May Hold If Story Contains True Statements that Create False Impression
Description Appeals court held that a defamation suit by a business against a television station could proceed. A news report contained true information but left out important information that may change the viewers’ perception of the business featured in the story.
Topic Torts
Key Words Defamation; Falsity
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts A television station aired a three-part story about the trial of a developmentally disabled man who has the mental capacity of a five year old. On several occasions he had been asked to leave a retail store. When he said he would kill the owner of the store, the police were called. Told that they could do nothing to prevent the man’s return unless charges were pressed, the owner of the store pressed charges and there was a trial for trespassing. The television story focused on the trial and identified the store. The store received numerous complaints about ill treatment of a mentally disabled person. The store’s owner sued the television station and reporter for defamation. He contended that the story left out many important facts. The trial court dismissed the suit; plaintiff appealed.
Decision

Reversed. There is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the story was more damaging to the store owner than the full story would have been. The evidence is that the reporter omitted facts that the man had made numerous unwelcome visits to the store, that he had been warned to stay away, that he had threatened violence, and that he admitted that he made threats. The key issue is whether the story as broadcast would have a more negative effect on the mind of a viewer than would the entire story. Falsity can be express or implied; a story that contains only true statements may nonetheless be false and defamatory if it omits material facts.

Citation Mohr v. Grant, 68 P.3d 1159 (Ct. App., Wash., 2003)

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