Case Review of Business Tort

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Case Review of

Business Tort

Krista Lee

Methodist University

In the appeal case of Smith v. Stewart, author Haywood Smith, Smith’s publisher, and secondary publishers contend that the court erred in denying a summary judgment for the claims of defamation, false light invasion of privacy, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress and public disclosure of private facts. These charges were brought against Smith by longtime friend, Vicki Stewart when Stewart was convinced that Smith wrote a book The Red Hat Club about fictional characters, one of which was a character based on Vicki Stewart that was said to be promiscuous and an alcoholic. The first rule applied in this case was the rule of libel and slander, which states that the cause of defamation must include four elements: “1) a false and defamatory statement concerning the plaintiff; 2) an unprivileged communication to a third party; 3) fault by the defendant amounting at least to negligence; and 4) special harm of the actionability of the statement irrespective of special harm.” (822) Libel is the defamation of one’s character in written form, and slander is the defamation of one’s character is oral form. In order for this case to be viewed as libel and slander, the court needs to prove that the fictional character in the book was meant to be a portrayal of Vickie Stewart. They also need to prove that the character portrayal was a false portrayal of Vickie Stewart. If the entire portrayal is true then there would be no defamation. The court needs to decide if the information was given to an unprivileged third party and if Smith acted out of negligence. Lastly, the court needs to prove that the slander or libel caused harm to the plaintiff or made them act in such a way that would cause harm. A second rule applied in this case is the rule of torts which states that “in order to sustain a false light invasion of privacy claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendant knowingly or recklessly published falsehoods about him or her and, as a result, placed him or her in a false light which would be highly offensive to a reasonable person”. (824) In other words, did the defendant write things about the plaintiff that might be embarrassing, or cause shame to a reasonable person? If so, then the claim of false light invasion of privacy could be substantiated. A third rule applied in this case was a rule of damages concerning emotional distress. In order for Vicki to substantiate a claim of emotional distress, she would need to prove that Smith negligently or intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon Stewart and that the distress caused Stewart to act in an extreme or outrageous manner that is not accepted by society. (825) Vicki Stewart and Haywood Smith were childhood friends from Buckhead and had been friends for fifty years when author Haywood Smith’s book, The Red Hat Club was published. When Vicki became an adult, she married a man and had two children. Her husband was later killed in a car accident and Vicki received a substantial amount of money in an insurance settlement. She later met and became engaged to a man by the name of Harold Stewart who was also engaged to another woman. She later married Harold. He stole her insurance money and transferred all of his assets to his mistress; subsequently they were divorced. In the divorce settlement, Vicki was awarded 750,000; however, she was unable to collect the award from Harold. When Vicki was in her fifties she became a flight attendant. Smith and Stewart spoke as friends about all of the details of Stewart’s life. Smith thought Stewart’s life story was interesting so she decided to include it in the novel which she was currently writing. The book chronicled the lives of five women who lived in Buckhead and were great friends. One of the characters in the book had an uncanny resemblance to Stewart. In the book, the character was...
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