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Mere words, however offensive or insulting, when the conduct of the party does not amount to an assault, are not actionable. As to assault, it is stated that an act other than the mere speaking of words which, directly or indirectly, is a legal cause of putting another in apprehension of an immediate and harmful or offensive contact makes the actor liable to the other for the apprehension so caused, if the actor intends to inflict a harmful or offensive contact upon the other or a third person or to put the other or a third person in apprehension thereof. An act which is not done with the intention stated does not make the actor liable to the other for an apprehension caused thereby although the act involves an unreasonable risk of causing it and, therefore, would be negligent or reckless if the risk threatened bodily harm.
Plaintiff victim filed an action against defendant slanderer, seeking recovery for emotional injuries caused by defendant's slanderous remarks in a public place. The trial court granted defendant's motion to dismiss prior to submission of the matter to the jury, holding that slander per quod was not actionable without a showing of special damages. The appellate court reversed, holding that the claim could have been for intentional infliction of emotional distress and, as such, was actionable. Defendant sought further review.
Was slander per quod actionable even without a showing of special damages?
The court reversed the appellate court and reinstated the trial court’s judgment. The court held that there was no liability for mere negligent acts, even if defendant could have reasonably anticipated the mental and emotional disturbance that his words caused to plaintiff. However, where defendant did not engage in menacing conduct or threats which would have constituted an assault, the mere words alone were not actionable. The court noted that plaintiff did not allege that she was frightened or terrified. Accordingly, the claim was dismissed.