§24.1 Generally

The Case: Davis v. The Tennessean , 83 S.W.3d 125 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001).

The Basic Facts: Plaintiff filed libel action against a newspaper alleging damage to his reputation resulting from the newspaper's publication of a sentence in an article, which stated that he shot a man. His co-defendant had, in fact, killed the victim.

The Bottom Line:

  • "Libel and slander are both forms of defamation; libel being written defamation and slander being spoken defamation. Quality Auto Parts Co., Inc. v. Bluff City Buick Co., Inc., 876 S.W.2d 818, 820 (Tenn. 1994)." 83 S.W.3d at 128.
  • "To establish a prima facie case of defamation, the plaintiff must prove that (1) a party published a statement; (2) with knowledge that the statement was false and defaming to the other; or (3) with reckless disregard for the truth of the statement or with negligence in failing to ascertain the truth of the statement. Sullivan v. Baptist Mem'l Hosp., 995 S.W.2d 569, 571 (Tenn. 1999) (relying on Restatement (Second) of Torts § 580 B (1977))." Id.
  • "However, 'the basis for an action for defamation, whether it be slander or libel, is that the defamation has resulted in an injury to the person's character and reputation.' Quality Auto Parts, 876 S.W.2d at 820. To be actionable, the allegedly defamatory statement must 'constitute a serious threat to the plaintiff's reputation.' Stones River Motors, Inc. v. Mid-South Publ'g Co., 651 S.W.2d 713, 719 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1983). Damages from false or inaccurate statements cannot be presumed; actual damage must be sustained and proved. Memphis Publ'g Co. v. Nichols, 569 S.W.2d 412, 416, 419 (Tenn. 1978)." Id.

Other Sources of Note: Ali v. Moore , 984 S.W.2d 224 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998) (holding that a television or radio broadcast is a libel, particularly if based on a written script).

Recent Cases: 

Grant v. The Commercial Appeal, No. W2015-00208-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 5772524 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 18, 2015) (dismissal of defamation claim affirmed, but dismissal of defamation by implication claim reversed, where articles raised questions about plaintiff’s honesty with city council regarding involvement in project; articles contained personal interviews and investigatory descriptions and therefore did not fall under the fair report privilege); Nardone v. Cartwright, No. E2013-00522-COA-R3-CV, 2014 WL 1018142 (Tenn. Ct. App. March 17, 2014) (dismissal of case affirmed where plaintiff sued former employer for allegedly defamatory police report, yet plaintiff admitted that everything in report was true and allegedly defamatory language of “theft from business by employee” was not language used by the employer); Gard  v.  Harris, No.  E2008-01939-COA-R3-CV,  2010  WL 844810 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 11, 2010) (holding consent to release protected health information signed by plaintiff defeated claims for defamation and false light invasion of privacy where doctor sent letter stating he would no longer treat plaintiff  to  referring  doctor  and  companies  managing  plaintiff’s  worker’s compensation benefits); Steele v. Ritz, No. W2008-02125-COA-R3-CV, 2009 WL 4815183 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 16, 2009) (affirming dismissal of defamation claim finding plaintiffs failed to allege defendant’s statement actually referred to them); Sykes v. Chattanooga Housing Authority, No. E2008-0525-COA-R3-CV, 2009 WL 2365705 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jul. 31, 2009) (discussing immunity from SLAPP suits conferred by Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-1003 (2005)); Rose v. Cookeville Medical Center, No. M2007-02368-COA-R3-CV, 2008 WL 2078056 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 14, 2008) (affirming dismissal of claim for slander because complaint did  not  specify  sufficiently  the  time  and  place  of  the  alleged  statements); Robertson  v.  The Leaf Chronicle, No.  M2007-01025-COA-R3-CV, 2007 WL 4523329 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2007) (upholding dismissal of defamation claim for failure to state claim and also finding that plaintiff sustained no damages).

Steele v. Ritz , No. W2008-02125-COA-R3-CV, 2009 WL 4815183 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 16, 2009) (affirming dismissal of defamation claim finding plaintiffs failed to allege defendant's statement actually referred to them); Sykes v. Chattanooga Housing Authority, No. E2008-0525-COA-R3-CV, 2009 WL 2365705 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jul. 31, 2009) (discussing immunity from SLAPP suits conferred by Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-1003 (2005)); Rose v. Cookeville Medical Center, No. M2007-02368-COA-R3-CV, 2008 WL 2078056 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 14, 2008) (affirming dismissal of claim for slander because complaint did not specify sufficiently the time and place of the alleged statements); Robertson v. The Leaf Chronicle, No. M2007-01025-COA-R3-CV, 2007 WL 2078056 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2007) (upholding dismissal of defamation claim for failure to state claim and also finding that plaintiff sustained no damages).

After an accident, many injury victims and their families want more information on the accident and their legal rights. Consequently, many of them have found their way to these pages. While we are happy you are here, please understand Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law was written to be a quick, invaluable reference for Tennessee tort lawyers. While the book provides the leading case for more than 300 tort law subjects and thousands of related case citations, it is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

Rather than researching these legal issues alone, we urge you to contact one of our award-winning lawyers who can sit down with you, review your case, answer your questions and clearly explain your rights and your options in a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced attorneys handle all personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency basis, so we only get paid if we win. If for any reason you are unable to come to our office, we will gladly come to you.

To schedule an appointment, contact us online or call us at 615-742-4880 or toll-free at 866-812-8787.



The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

To order a copy of the book, visit www.dayontortsbook.com. John also blogs regularly on key issues for tort lawyers. To subscribe to the Day on Torts blog, visit www.dayontorts.com.

Client Reviews
Everything was great. You guys are a great representative. I was satisfied with everything. Truly appreciate John Day and his hard-working staff.
★★★★★
We thought that you did an excellent job in representing us in our lawsuit. We would recommend you to anyone.
★★★★★
The Law Offices of John Day is, without a doubt, the best in Nashville! They treated me with the utmost respect and tended to my every need. No question went unanswered. I was always kept informed of every step in the process. I received phenomenal results; I couldn't ask for more. I would definitely hire the Law Offices of John Day again.
★★★★★
I would definitely recommend to anyone to hire John Day's law firm because everyone was helpful, made everything clear and got the job done. I am satisfied with how my case was handled.
★★★★★
It's been a long battle but this firm has been very efficient and has done a remarkable job for me! I highly recommend them to anyone needing legal assistance. Everyone has always been very kind and kept me informed of all actions promptly.
★★★★★
I had a great experience with the Law Offices of John Day. The staff was very accommodating, and my phone calls/emails were always responded to in a timely manner. They made the entire process very easy and stress-free for me, and I had confidence that my case was in good hands. I am very happy with the results, and I highly recommend!
★★★★★