By Amy E. Feldman
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The website Gawker published an article entitled: ‘Pennsylvania Man Killed By His Dead Mother-In-Law’. Intriguing, if not exactly accurate.
It seems that a couple went to visit the gravesite of the wife’s mother to decorate it for Easter. But the ground had shifted because of the thaw and the 400 pound stone monument toppled on top of the husband, killing him.
One reader was offended enough by the title of the article to comment: “You do know this is libel. You have accused that woman of murder and that is not even close to the truth.”
When the article’s author wrote back in a statement that was both pithy and correct: Can’t defame the dead, the poster went on to state: “You can indeed defame someone who is dead and if their family doesn’t like it because you’ve spoken ill/untruths of their loved one, they can sue.” Nope.
You can post as many times as you want, but it still don’t make it so.
In order to prove defamation, a person has to prove that someone made a false statement of fact about her to another person that damaged her reputation or ability to earn a living. The point of a lawsuit for defamation isn’t that what was said about you hurt your feelings, but rather that it hurt your earning power which, in the case of a deceased person, is not an issue.
So maybe this would make a clearer headline: ‘Speaking Ill of the Dead May Be Offensive But It Isn’t Illegal’.