When involved in the running or managing of a business, one must always be mindful of the mistakes and wrongdoing that could possibly occur, and how the business will ultimately be affected. There are two areas of the law which deal with these types of problems, consisting of tort and criminal law. A tort is a civil wrong, which does not arise from a contract, and involves injuries to particular persons or property, whereas a crime is considered a public wrong, which is punishable by the state.
In tort law, there are three different kinds of torts, including intentional, negligent, and strict liability. An intentional tort requires that the defendant meant to do a certain action, but not necessarily to harm a person or thing. Negligence is a situation in which harm is caused by accident, and strict liability is where harm is done, but one is responsible without proof of carelessness or blame. In tort cases, the injured party can seek compensatory damages, which could be medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, and more.
An injured party might also seek punitive damages, which are designed to punish the person at fault or prevent the same thing from happening again. There are many different areas of intentional torts that can arise from an act of intent. Some of these torts committed against a person are battery, assault, false imprisonment, fraud, defamation, and others. Some of the intentional torts committed against property are trespass to real property, trespass to personal property, conversion, and nuisance.
Defamation is defined as discrediting a person’s reputation by oral or written publication. Slander is the spoken form of the tort, and libel is defamation in print or some other tangible form, such as a picture, movie, video, and many times a radio or television statement is also considered libel. There are three things necessary in order to prove defamation, including (1) a false statement, (2) harm to the victim’s reputation, and (3) publication of the statement, which must reach someone other than the person being defamed.
Defamation can occur toward any living person or organization, but public figures must also prove malice, which generally requires a showing of actual knowledge of the falsehood or reckless disregard for the truth. Although a person is usually required to show actual harm in a case of slander, sometimes the statements are so innately damaging that the person need not show actual damage. Statements of this kind include allegations of serious sexual misconduct, commission of a serious crime, professional incompetence, or having a loathsome disease, and are called slander per se.
Libel also does not generally require a showing of actual harm. This area of tort law is exhibited clearly in a St. Louis Post Dispatch article by Michael White. The article, titled “Brown & Williamson fights movie depiction,” is about a cigarette maker attacking Wlalt Disney for distorting the truth in recent film. Brown & Williamson accuses Disney of falsely claiming that the life of former B&W executive Jeffrey Wigand was threatened by the company. There were two particular scenes in the movie that B&W are worried about – Wigand finding a bullet and threatening note in his mailbox, and Wigand being followed by someone.
The cigarette company feels that Disney has put them into a bad light by implying they are responsible for a threat on Jeffrey Wigand’s life, and because threats are considered to be criminal activities, Disney is accusing B&W of committing a crime. Brown & Williamson is strongly considering filing a lawsuit against Walt Disney for libel. This case definitely deals with tort law, because B&W feel that there was a wrong done to them, and they will seek damages from Disney in order to remedy the detriment resulting from the film.
The type of tort shown in this example is intentional, because Disney made the film knowing that this material was present, and they released it to the public. As an intentional tort, the act would then be considered a defamation, and more specifically, it would be libel. This is because according to B&W, the material is not of a truthful nature, and the material in the film would be damaging to the reputation of the cigarette company. The information was then obviously released to the public in the form of a movie.
Brown & Williamson would probably not need to prove that actual harm arose from the statement, because accusing them of a serious crime may be considered slander per se, and damage from that alone would be enough. Due to the fact that B&W is a “public figure,” they will also be responsible for proving malice on Disney’s part, or that Disney had actual knowledge of the truth or reckless disregard for the truth. If Brown & Williamson does decide to go ahead with a lawsuit, I have mixed feelings on what I think the outcome will be.
I definitely think that the company has reasonable justification for suing Walt Disney on grounds of libel. Disney is clearly responsible for all of the elements required for defamation and libel, but because they are also required to show malice, I’m not sure if B&W will be able to win the lawsuit. It will be a challenge to find proof that Disney had knowledge of the falsehood of the information and/or had reckless disregard for the truth. A spokesperson for Disney claims that, “The film itself never suggests who might have been behind the threats.
It was also made known that Wigand actually reported finding the bullet and note, but and FBI agent suggested that it may have been put there by Wigand instead. I think it’s hard to know what the outcome of a lawsuit would be without knowing all of the facts, because either company could be withholding information at this time, so as not to put the other company at an advantage. It will be interesting to see if anything develops further, and whether or not Brown & Williamson actually file the suit, or possibly settle outside of court.