Jack Strauss

By any other name, Harvey was a "dough nut" -- a miser. And, consistent with that characteristic, he was also a do-it-yourself fanatic. For example, to save money and to make sure it was done exactly the way he wanted it done, he started building himself "a tailored to fit coffin." When Bert, who wrote articles for a magazine, got wind of what Harvey was engaged in doing, he wrote a rather whimsical article for a magazine about Harvey's do-it-yourself coffin. And further, he reported how Harvey had dug himself a grave in which his do-it-yourself coffin would rest. Concluding the article, Bert wrote:

"This slightly ghoulish gent can take his time on the project since he is only 36 years of age."

Upon reading this article, Harvey tossed away his shovel long enough to sue Bert's magazine for libel.

"I've become the life of the party," he complained to the judge. "Whenever people get together, all they do is laugh about me."

"Nonsense," responded the attorney for the magazine company. "The article was published in fun and the bottom line is that Harvey suffered no actual damages."

If you were the judge, would you permit Harvey to collect damages for being libeled?

This is how the judge ruled: Yes! The judge held that a person's reputation cannot be murdered in jest. And, in this case, noted the judge, the article written about Harvey was carried too far since it had a natural tendency to elevate Harvey to the status of being an oddball.

-- based on a 1958 Maine Supreme Court decision

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