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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jesse Ventura Wins Defamation Suit

Jesse Ventura was awarded $1.8 million against the estate of Chris Kyle (former Navy SEAL and author of the book American Sniper). The book included an alleged encounter Kyle had with former governor and wrestler Jesse Ventura.

Ventura alleged that the passages were defamatory. The verdict was reached after a week of deliberations. Ventura was awarded $500,000.00 for defamation and $1.3 million for unjust enrichment. Kyle defended his writing via a videotaped deposition as accurate.

People say quite often that they want to sue someone for libel, slander, or defamation. However, those things aren't as easy to prove as one would think.

For something to be libelous, the false statement must be published. It must also be damaging to a person's reputation. The key for libel is that it must be written or broadcast.

Slander occurs when a false statement is spoken. The statements must be damaging to the person's reputation.

Defamation is the damaging of a good reputation. This is the result of libel or slander. Someone's good reputation was severely tarnished.

Ventura's legal team had to meet certain legal elements in order to pursue this claim of defamation.

  • The statement must be published. Remember, a statement can be spoken or written. It can also include pictures or gestures. Publishing means that a third party heard or saw the statement. It doesn't necessarily have to be published in a book, but in this instance that is exactly what happened. 
  • The statement must be false. The best defense for a claim of defamation is if someone is telling the truth. Although Kyle stated in a videotaped deposition that his statements were accurate, there were witnesses that disagreed. More importantly, the jury believed that the statements made about Ventura in the book were false. 
  • The statement must cause an injury. The goal of defamation law is to restore the losses that took place as a result of the false statement. If there is no actual loss, there is no case for defamation. In this case, Ventura very likely lost business and opportunities for future business as a result of what was published. 
  • The statement must be unprivileged. In other words, the statement didn't fall into a category of privileged communication. Many times, this is a policy decision. 
Public officials and public figures often have less protection from defamatory statements. There's a higher burden of proof that exists. Often, they must prove that "actual malice" was intended. "Actual malice" was defined in Hustler v. Falwell in 1964 by the Supreme Court. In short, the Court held that someone that is a public official could win a defamation suit only when the statement was not an honest mistake and was published with the actual intent of causing harm to the public person. Actual malice only occurs when the person who made the statement knew it was not true at the time it was made or they had reckless disregard of whether or not it was true. 

What do you think about the verdict? 

If you would like more information about this topic or have general legal questions, please feel free to contact me at (973)949-3770 or via email at plamont@peterlamontesq.com We answer legal questions on a daily basis and would be happy to discuss any issues or questions that you have with you.  Offices in: New Jersey New York, Colorado & Puerto Rico.  Affiliated throughout the country.

© 2014, Law Offices of Peter J. Lamont. This Update is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice nor does it create an attorney/client relationship between the firm and any readers or recipients. Readers should consult counsel of their own choosing to discuss how these matters relate to their individual circumstances. This Update may be considered attorney advertising in some states. Furthermore, prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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