Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Famous figure skater loses defamation case

Defamation cases are like professional grudge matches. Courts have in place strict rules that plaintiffs must satisfy in order to win. Otherwise, every insult and affront becomes a lawsuit.

The case is Baiul v. Disson, a summary order decided on April 16. Plaintiff is Oksana Baiul, the 1994 Olympic Gold Medal winner. One barrier to victory is that if the plaintiff is a "public figure," she has to prove the falsehood was made with actual malice against her. That's because public figures have to tolerate a lot more nonsense than everyone else. Politicians are public figures, but renowned athletes are, too, like the plaintiff, a self-described "superstar in the world of figure skating." Even I have heard of the plaintiff.

So the actual malice standard kicks in. Plaintiff must prove that someone uttered a public falsehood with knowledge that it was untrue. You have to prove malice with clear and convincing evidence. The defendant said plaintiff failed to appear for a skating show because she was out shopping. Even if this statement if false, plaintiff cannot show it was said maliciously. She also does not suggest the story was improbable or that the information came from a dubious source. Plaintiff even admitted at deposition that "it was gossip in the skating industry that she missed an event because she was out shopping."

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