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ELEMENTS OF LIBEL IN OREGON

Cynthia Hodges, J.D. LL.M, M.A.


The Oregon Bar defines libel as “communicating a defamatory statement by writing or picture.” Oregon State Bar, “Libel and Slander” at http://www.osbar.org/public/legalinfo/1186.htm. Likewise, case law has defined libel as “a malicious defamation, made public either by printing, painting, writing, signs or pictures, tending to blacken the ... reputation of one who is living, and to expose him to public hatred, contempt or ridicule.” Willetts v. Scudder, 72 Ore. 535, 541 (Or. 1914).

The elements for libel in Oregon appear to be that the plaintiff must prove:

(1) a false and defamatory statement about the plaintiff was made;
(2) which was an unprivileged publication to a third party;
(3) the defendant acted intentionally or negligently; and
(4) damages.

False and defamatory statement

The Oregon State Bar defines defamation as “a false statement communicated to another person that damages [one’s] reputation by exposing [one] to hatred, contempt, or ridicule from other people.” Oregon State Bar, “Libel and Slander” at http://www.osbar.org/public/legalinfo/1186.htm. “A communication is defamatory if it tends so to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him." Beecher v. Montgomery Ward & Co., 267 Ore. 496, 499-500 (Or. 1973).

Published to a third party

“Publication is an essential element of the tort of libel.” Morrow v. II Morrow, Inc., 139 Ore. App. 212, 218 (Or. Ct. App. 1996). “'Publication,' ... includes any communication by the defendant to a third person.” Morrow v. II Morrow, Inc., 139 Ore. App. 212, 220-221 (Or. Ct. App. 1996).

“The plaintiff is entitled to recover if he can show the defamatory words were understood as referring to him by persons who knew him, or if the words are such that the world would apply them to the plaintiff." Patzer v. Liberty Communications, Inc., 58 Ore. App. 679, 682 (Or. Ct. App. 1982).

Intentional or negligent action

“Publication of defamatory matter is its communication intentionally or by a negligent act to one other than the person defamed." Morrow v. II Morrow, Inc., 139 Ore. App. 212, 218 (Or. Ct. App. 1996). A “presumption of malice and of general damage to reputation arises from the making of the defamation alone, and direct proof of culpability on the part of the defendant is unnecessary.” Bank of Oregon v. Independent News, 65 Ore. App. 29, 31 (Or. Ct. App. 1983). “The standard of care for those allegedly defamatory statements that require proof of negligence should be ordinary negligence...” Bank of Oregon v. Independent News, 298 Ore. 434, 445 (Or. 1985).

Damages

“In a libel claim, the plaintiff need not allege or prove special damages. ‘If the communication was capable of a defamatory meaning and was so understood by the recipients, damage is assumed although no special harm or loss of reputation results therefrom.’" C.A.R. Tow, Inc. v. Corwin, see also 76 Ore. App. 192, 195 (Or. Ct. App. 1985), Balsiger v. American Steel & Supply Co., 254 Ore. 204, 210 (Or. 1969). Courts are “committed to the rule...[that] ‘One who falsely, and without a privilege to do so, publishes matter defamatory to another in such a manner as to make the publication a libel is liable to the other although no special harm or loss of reputation results therefrom.’" Beecher v. Montgomery Ward & Co., 267 Ore. 496, 501 (Or. 1973), see also Harley-Davidson Motorsports, Inc. v. Markley, 279 Ore. 361, 364 (Or. 1977).



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Copyright © 2013 Cynthia Hodges, Esq. All Rights Reserved.