Libel

statue-of-liberty serious charges

A statement that is in writing or recorded is treated more seriously than oral statements about a person’s character.

As a general rule, a plaintiff need not prove actual or special harm where the false statement about the plaintiff is written or is inherently damaging (such as a statement that interferes with one’s livelihood, or a suggestion that the plaintiff has a loathsome disease).

The American Law Institute, in both the First and Second Restatements of Torts, consistently has adhered to the traditional rule that all libels (written statements) are actionable “per se,” aside from special harm. Restatement of Torts § 569; Restatement (Second) of Torts § 569. The Institute views Prosser’s hybrid rule as the “minority position.” See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 569, Comment b. Laurence Eldredge, for many years Court Reporter for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, championed the ALI position and disputed Prosser’s. See Eldredge,

Going back to 1966, the Spurious Rule of Libel Per Quod, 79 Harv.L.Rev. 733 (1966) considered Pennsylvania among those states holding that all libels, whether defamatory on their face or through extrinsic facts, were actionable without the need to prove special harm.

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