Ohio's Supreme Court recently recognized the tort of "false light" in June 2007. In that case, Welling v. Weinfeld, 866 N.E.2d 1051 (Ohio 2007), a woman, Lauri Weinfeld, opened up a facility for outdoor banquets and weddings next to the home of Robert and Katherine Welling and their children. The neighbors came into conflict, and eventually Weinfeld found a window in her banquet facility broken. She put up a number of posters offering a $500 reward for information about the incident at the workplace of Mr. Welling and at the workplaces and schools of the family's children.
The Wellings and Lauri Weinfeld sued each other on various claims, including a claim by the Wellings that Weinfeld had through the posters cast them in a false light. In response, the Ohio Supreme Court announced for the first time that it would recognize the tort of false light: "In Ohio, one who gives publicity to a matter concerning another that places the other before the public in a false light is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy if (a) the false light in which the other was placed would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (b) the actor had knowledge of or acted in reckless disregard as to the falsity of the publicized matter and the false light in which the other would be placed." Welling, 866 N.E.2d 1051 (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652E).
Elements of a False Light Claim
- The defendant "gave publicity" to what he or she said about the plaintiff -- that is, the defendant communicated it to many people;
- The statement placed the plaintiff before the public in a "false light" -- that is, the defendant communicated something false;
- The statement was "highly offensive to a reasonable person"; and
- The defendant was at fault and knew or was reckless to the falsehood of the statement.
Privileges and Defenses
If you are sued for false light, you may have several defenses that will protect you, even if the plaintiff has an otherwise winning case. See the section on Defamation Privileges and Defenses for a general discussion of potential defenses.
For instance, opinions are constitutionally protected; a false light claim must be based on the implication of a false fact. Other defenses may be available, but Ohio courts have not yet said what they are.