Related Laws

If someone is going to sue you because of what you said about them, they will probably file a defamation lawsuit. In some less common cases, they might instead pursue one of these related torts.

False light

False light is similar to defamation but differs in three ways:

  • A false light claim can apply to a statement that was technically true but misleading. If you illustrated a story about yoga injuries with a photo of Morgan, they could sue you for false light even if you didn’t say they had injured anyone.
  • A false light claim is based on emotional suffering, while a defamation claim is based on reputational harm.
  • A false light claim always requires the plaintiff to prove actual malice.

The difference between defamation and false light is subtle and many states do not recognize false light as a distinct claim. False light claims are rare.

Publication of private facts

An individual can sue you for publication of private facts if you publicly disclosed information about them that was:

  • private,
  • previously not publicly known,
  • highly offensive to a reasonable person, and
  • not of legitimate public interest

The law isn’t clear, but it in the #metoo era it is likely that non-consensual sexual misconduct would be considered a matter of legitimate public interest, especially if the person in question is a prominent figure like an educator or leader.

Unlike defamation, publication of private facts applies to true statements as well as false ones. Publication of private facts claims are rare.

Parallel legal claims

The United States places great value on free speech—consequently, defamation lawsuits are hard to win. People sometimes try to get around that by reframing defamation claims as other kinds of claims that have less stringent requirements. That strategy has found little success: the courts have generally ruled that any claim that has defamation at its heart must meet the requirements of a defamation claim, no matter how it is presented.

Parasitic torts

A parasitic tort is a tort that is appended to a primary tort. For example, someone might file a defamation suit with intentional infliction of emotional distress appended as a parasitic tort.

Generally speaking, a parasitic tort cannot stand on its own: if the primary tort fails, the parasitic tort will be dismissed.


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