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§39.6 False Light Invasion of Privacy – Damages for False Light Claims

The Case: West v. Media General Convergence, Inc. , 53 S.W. 3d 640 (Tenn. 2001).

The Basic Facts: Plaintiffs operated a private probation services business, and were referred this business by the general sessions courts in Hamilton County. Plaintiffs claimed that WDEF-TV defamed them by broadcasting false statements that the plaintiffs' business is illegal. Plaintiff West, in particular, claimed that the defendant invaded her privacy by implying that she had a sexual relationship with one of the general session judges; and that the general sessions judges and the plaintiffs otherwise had a "cozy," and hence improper, relationship. The opinion in this case recognizes the tort of false light invasion of privacy.

The Bottom Line:

  • "Damages are addressed in Section 652H of the [RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS] (1977), which provides:
    One who has established a cause of action for invasion of his privacy is entitled to recover damages for
    1. the harm to his interest in privacy resulting from the invasion;
    2. his mental distress proved to have been suffered if it is of a kind that normally results from such an invasion; and
    3. special damage of which the invasion is a legal cause."
    53 S.W. 3d at 648.
  • "Consistent with defamation, we emphasize that plaintiffs seeking to recover on false light claims must specifically plead and prove damages allegedly suffered from the invasion of their privacy. See Memphis Publishing, 569 S.W.2d at 419. As with defamation, there must be proof of actual damages. See Myers v. Pickering Firm, Inc., 959 S.W.2d 152 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1997). The plaintiff need not prove special damages or out of pocket losses necessarily, as evidence of injury to standing in the community, humiliation, or emotional distress is sufficient. 959 S.W.2d at 164." Id.

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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.

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