Don’t get caught napping!

Defamation and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress – Another Day at the Park

This past week, satirists, haters of the law, and comedians around the world had cause to celebrate yet again as another seemingly frivolous lawsuit landed with a yawn, or rather a snore, above newspaper folds across the country in the media’s attention, when napping New York Yankees fan Andrew Robert Rector sued Major League Baseball and ESPN for an unflattering portrayal of him sleeping during a live telecast of a baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox on April 13, 2014. Mr. Rector’s appearance during the game, with head on chest, elicited comments from the game’s paid analysts, and from online commenters, Tweeters, and Internet “trolls.”

In response, Mr. Rector’s lawsuit seeks $10 million in damages from ESPN and MLB for “defamation,” “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” and claims that the defendants published false and defamatory statements about him. At this time, it does not appear there has been resolution of the matter, though it initially appears that some of the written statements that Mr. Rector may be complaining of may have come from commenters to ESPN or Major League Baseball’s websites, and not from direct comments from the telecast’s paid analysts, as initially alleged.

In Tennessee, the elements required to prove Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED, for short), and defamation are substantial, and often not easy to show in a lawsuit. For a Plaintiff to support a claim of IIED, he or she must be able to generally demonstrate that the conduct was (1) intentional or reckless, (2) so outrageous that it is not tolerated by civilized society, and (3) resulted in serious mental injury to the plaintiff.

With regard to defamation, which usually takes the form of either slander (the spoken) or libel (the written), to establish a prima facia case of defamation, the plaintiff must prove the following elements: (1) a party published a statement; (2) with knowledge that the statement was false and defaming to the other; or (3) with reckless disregard for the truth of the statement or with negligence in failing to ascertain the truth of the statement.

In the example of Mr. Rector above, it remains to be seen whether the particular jokes, the publication of his sleeping image, or the statements of game analysts or of fellow fans and Internet commenters will rise to the level of serious injury to the Plaintiff, or whether they will be deemed to be so outrageous as to be “not tolerated by civilized society,” so as to sustain a claim of IIED. Moreover, the Court will have to decide whether the necessary elements have been met to sustain a claim of defamation.

If you believe you have been injured or have had an experience that may meet the necessary elements for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress or Defamation, please call or email the attorneys at Fidelis Law.