The Tort of "False Light" is one of the most problematic of all the "Privacy" Torts, because of its close similarity to the Tort of "Defamation," and because of various conflicts which the recognition of such a Tort potentially creates with respect to the First Amendment exercise of Free Speech. Like several of the other "Privacy" Torts, the Tort of "False Light" is intended primarily to protect the plaintiff's mental or emotional well-being. And, like each of the other Privacy Torts (except the Tort of "Intrusion"), the Tort of "False Light" also requires (at least implicitly) some kind of "publication" to be actionable. As the name of this Tort implies, "False Light" requires some type of false (or at least misleading) statement, and for this reason it often appears to overlap somewhat with the separate Tort of "Defamation." In one sense, if the information communited about the plaintiff is indeed truly false, then an action can be pursued on the basis of "Defamation," and there is no need for any separate "Privacy" Tort action. However, there are many situations involving the communication of information which, although perhaps not "technically" false, is still "misleading." The effect of publishing such misleading information about the plaintiff to the "public eye" is nonetheless embarassing and potentially injurious to the plainitff. The specific elements of the Tort of FALSE LIGHT vary considerably even among those jurisdictions which do recognize this Tort. Generally, these elements consist of the following:
(1). A publication by the Defendant about the Plainitff;
(2). made with actual malice (very similar to that type required by New York Times v. Sullivan in "Defamation" cases);
(3). which places the Plainitff in a false light;
(4). that would be highly offensive (i.e., embarassing to reasonable persons.
READ the Cain v. Hearst Corp. case.
HOME Return to
TOP RESOURCES FORUM QUESTIONS