Professional Responsibility Attorney

Challenging Ideas On Rational Systems

Generally, courts are reluctant to recognize media liability for emotional distress. Historically, too, courts have been suspicious of efforts by public officials and figures to evade constitutional protections for expression by recasting libel claims as other torts, such as IIED. Public officials and figures used to think of IIED as an attractive alternative to libel, because for years in IIED cases they did not have to prove the kind of fault that such libel plaintiffs did (i.e., actual malice). That made it easier for public officials/figures to win IIED claims. But that changed with Hustler, which extended the actual malice standard to IIED. That said, courts are most likely to recognize media liability in IIED cases involving plaintiffs who are private people subjected to extraordinarily aggressive or invasive reporting practices. For example, an Orlando television station settled an IIED case after a Florida court refused to dismiss a suit over the station’s decision to broadcast images of a girl’s skull. WESH-TV had aired a close shot of a police officer lifting a skull—that of the plaintiff’s daughter, who had been abducted three years earlier—from a box. The broadcast began with a story about the memorial services held that day for the girl; her parents, not warned of the skull footage, watched in horror. In another case, CBS settled after it broadcast a video of a woman’s conversation with an intervention specialist at a woman’s home following an alleged attack by her husband. She said the CBS camera crew members misrepresented themselves, claiming to be a crew from the district attorney’s office.

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