False light is a tort that overlaps with defamation and invasion of privacy. False light can be claimed when someone spreads falsehoods about the plaintiff. Under a false light claim, the plaintiff can receive damages for the emotional harm caused; they cannot claim these damages in a defamation claim. Also, good faith cannot be used as a defense in a false light tort.
How to File a False Light Claim
The plaintiff must prove the following things to file a false light claim:
- The defendant published information about the plaintiff
- The information is misleading or paints the plaintiff in a false light
- The information can reasonably be considered embarrassing or highly offensive
- The defendant published the information with reckless disregard to the embarrassment or offense it would cause the plaintiff
Because of these requirements, a false light claim is much easier to file than a defamation claim.
For example, if a newspaper article uses a photo of someone in relation to a story about a crime the person was not involved in, this is painting the person in a false light. By using their photo, the newspaper implies that they are involved in the crime. The false light claim would be successful, but a defamation claim would not be in this scenario as the newspaper did not make a statement linking the person to the crime.
A false light claim is a valuable protection tool, especially when it comes to media companies,s as it allows the court to examine the context of the information published rather than false statements. It allows plaintiffs to hold media companies accountable for speculation or hints as well as blatant false statements.