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False Light

The law of defamation allows a person, business, or organization to sue for damages if a false and disparaging statement causes actual harm. This harm is usually in the form of damage to a person’s or business’ reputation, which in turn causes financial losses. A related cause of action, known as “false light,” allows an individual to recover damages for a public statement that misrepresents the individual in an offensive manner. Companies have been known to bring lawsuits or counterclaims against consumers who are alleging fraud or violations of consumer protection laws, as a means of silencing criticism by imposing burdensome litigation costs. These suits, known as strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), may include causes of action for defamation or false light. If you are facing this kind of lawsuit, an experienced Chicago defamation lawyer can help you understand the claims against you and can minimize the impact of the claim on your consumer rights case.

False Light

False light, also known as “false light invasion of privacy,” is a legal doctrine that protects an individual from false or misleading publicity, particularly when the individual is not a “public figure.” Many states do not recognize false light as an independent cause of action, or they require a plaintiff to include it in a defamation claim. The specific elements of false light vary in the states that do recognize it. An Illinois appellate court identified three elements that a plaintiff must prove in Brennan v. Kadner, 351 Ill.App.3d 963, 971 (1st Dist. 2004):

  • The defendant portrayed the plaintiff publicly in a false light;
  • A reasonable person would find the false light “highly offensive” or embarrassing;
  • The defendant acted with “actual malice,” meaning the defendant knew the statement was false or was reckless as to the statement’s truth.
How “False Light” Differs from “Defamation”

Claims for false light and claims for defamation differ in several important ways. First, false light is exclusively available to individuals, as it protects the individual right to privacy. Second, where defamation generally requires proof that an allegedly defamatory statement is false, false light only requires proof that a statement is made in a misleading manner. Finally, a false light claim bases damages largely on the plaintiff’s emotional well-being, while defamation seeks damages for direct financial losses.

Defending Against a False Light Claim

A defendant in a false light lawsuit may challenge any of the elements of the plaintiff’s case, including the requirement of actual malice or recklessness, or the false or misleading nature of the statement. Many states, including Illinois, have enacted anti-SLAPP statutes that enable individuals to seek dismissal of a SLAPP before incurring substantial expenses. A defendant can move to dismiss a petition, or strike a counterclaim, and must present proof that the allegedly defamatory or false-light statement(s) are in furtherance of First Amendment rights, like the right to petition for grievances. The court also examines the plaintiff’s intent in bringing a defamation or false light claim.

Nationwide Consumer Rights’ Chicago defamation attorneys have fought for the rights of consumers around the country for decades, representing them in cases of consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices, and other violations of consumer protection statutes. We have also defended our clients against counterclaims for libel, defamation, or false light brought by companies seeking to silence critics. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a defamation lawyer in Chicago or beyond, contact us today online or at 630-333-0000.

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