Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pittsburgh Defamation Law- Defamatory Statement

Pittsburgh Defamatory Statement

Defamatory Statements

PA defamation law is multifaceted. Over the course of several posts, I hope to explain each factor of PA defamation law for lawyers and other persons in Pittsburgh.

PA defamation law holds that if you say or write a defamatory comment about someone else, you can be held responsible for all the harm that the defamed individual can prove they suffered as a result.

That's all fine and good but what exactly is a defamatory statement?

Because we are dealing with statements and/or words in one form or another the concept can be somewhat amorphous. Thus, it is no surprise that the law in PA provides a few different explanations of what exactly constitutes a defamatory statement.

First, PA defamation law says "A communication is defamatory if [any portion of it] [it] tends to so harm the reputation of that person as to lower him or her in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him or her. It is not necessary that the defamatory statement be the primary focus of the communication in order for the plaintiff to succeed on [his] [her] claim. The plaintiff may recover on the basis of even a small portion of a communication, if it is defamatory. It is not a defense that that portion is not the primary focus of the communication or that other portions may be sympathetic to the plaintiff." Pa. Civ. Jury Inst. 13.8A.

Second, the law says "A communication [or any portion of it] is defamatory if in context its stated or implied meaning is defamatory." Pa. Civ. Jury Inst. 13.8A.

Third, "A communication is defamatory of a person if it tends to so harm the reputation of that person as to lower him or her in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him or her. Words are not defamatory merely because they are annoying or embarrassing to the person referred to in the communication." Pa. Civ. Jury Inst. 13.8A.

Lastly, PA defamation law says "A communication is defamatory if, taken as a whole, its implication is defamatory. A communication is published when it is communicated by someone other than the person to whom it refers." Pa. Civ. Jury Inst. 13.8A.

So what are the key takeaways from all of this?

First, a defamatory statement can be taken out of context. For instance, with the growth of online blogging many people are able to voice and have their opinion heard. Were a blogger to write a long post critical of the city's mayor's performance an opinion that he/she was doing a bad job would likely not rise to the level of defamation. If, however, in the course of the rant, however, the blogger falsely stated that the politician cheated on his/her spouse to support their opinion, the blogger would likely be found to have published a defamatory statement. It doesn't matter that the opinion piece in totality was not defamatory. The little pieces count.

Second, defamatory issues often arise when the wronged individual's reputation is called into question. If the statement is shown to have hurt the victim's image either in the local community or their work environment, a strong argument can be made that is it is defamatory. The key is if the statement harms the persons professional reputation. If the statements are simply annoying they are probably not defamatory.

For instance a student's online posting that his high school principal is a jerk or an idiot would be non-defamatory. On the other hand, suggesting that the principal is a known pedophile or has had inappropriate sexual relations with students has been held to be defamatory.

Should you be interested in additional information regarding defamation law in Pittsburgh or PA, please contact me. blupetin@epqlwyers.com or (412) 765-3800. Share this post :
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