Invasion of privacy is defined as the intrusion of someone’s right to privacy. The invasion may be an unreasonable interference with an individual’s confidential information, solitude, or public image.
False light is a type of invasion of privacy tort, and it occurs when one person alters the public image of another person by portraying that person in an untrue and offensive light.
The portrayal of the plaintiff’s character must be highly offensive to a reasonable person. In addition, the defendant must show a reckless disregard to the publication of the matter that casts the victim in a false light.
How Does Defamation Differ from False Light?
Defamation involves making public statements about a person in oral or written form communicated to a third party. In other words, defamation involves damaging a person’s reputation. False light involves publicly portraying a person as something they are not or creating a false impression.
Some courts interpret false light privacy claims as damage to the person’s feelings or dignity, rather than their reputation. False light claims often arise under similar facts as defamation cases.
What Must Be Proven in a False Light Case?
A plaintiff has to prove four elements to have a successful claim against a defendant. The plaintiff must prove elements which include:
- The defendant made published the information about the plaintiff;
- The publication places the plaintiff in a false or untrue light;
- The portrayal would be considered “highly offensive” or embarrassing to a reasonable person; and
- It was published with zero regard for the offensiveness of the content or its potential damage.
Thus, for instance, if a publication was made about a person that was highly offensive, but was actually true, then there would not be a case for defamation but could be a case for false light. The reason is that false light is focused on the emotional impact and the struggles felt by the plaintiff due to the publication.
Also, the term “publication” does not necessary need to be an actual publication, such as in a newspaper or online. It generally refers to making the matter public or communicating the matter to the public, which means more than a few people. Some states, including New York and Texas, do not allow for people to file false light lawsuits.
What are the Legal Remedies in a False Light Lawsuit?
False light incidents can cause much damage to a person and may result in legal action. In such lawsuits, the legal remedy will typically be a monetary damages award.
This is a monetary amount paid by the defendant to the plaintiff in order to compensate them for losses they have experienced on account of the false light incident. These damages can cover losses such as:
- Lost wages or loss of earnings;
- Lost earning capacity (loss of ability to generate income in the future);
- Pain and suffering;
- Impairment to the person’s standing in the community;
- Losses connected with personal humiliation, shame, or disgrace; and/or
- Various other monetary losses.
A plaintiff could potentially be limited to a false light claim if they were extremely open about the publication. If they made no efforts to hide it and it was something commonly known amongst their friends and acquaintances. Remember, a lawsuit for false light requires that the publication made the plaintiff appear in a false or misleading light.
While it doesn’t matter if the statement is true or not, what does matter if the plaintiff’s reputation was negatively impacted and they felt a harm from the publication.
Are there any Defenses to False Light Claims?
Truth is a complete defense for defamation. Whereas truth is not always a defense for false light, as false light claims are usually concerned about the emotional distress or further implications of the statement. But, if the defendant’s implications about the plaintiff are actually true and not false, then it may serve as a defense to a false light lawsuit depending on the circumstances.
Similarly, if the defendant’s statements or implications would not be considered highly offensive to a reasonable person, it might also serve as a defense to the claim. Courts may vary slightly by jurisdiction when it comes to interpretation of what is considered offensive or not.
They may rely on court precedent, or other similar rulings from cases in the past. Some courts may also place limits on the amount of damages a person can recover in such a lawsuit, especially for issues such as pain and suffering.
Should I Contact an Attorney about a False Light Claim?
Contacting a personal injury attorney near you is highly recommended if someone has placed you in a false light. Your attorney will explain the laws in your jurisdiction and how to proceed with the case. Also, your attorney can provide representation during important court meetings and hearings.