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E. Air Lines, Inc. v. Gellert - 438 So. 2d 923 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1983)

Rule:

Any publication, oral or written, which imputes to another a condition incompatible with the proper exercise of his trade or profession, amounts to a slander or libel per se. And, most assuredly, a publication which suggests an impairment in plaintiff's mental faculties, even short of suggesting insanity, is one which imputes to him a condition incompatible with the proper exercise of his trade or profession if made in that context.

Facts:

Eastern Air Lines, Inc., a Delaware corporation, Appellant, v. Plaintiff Daniel G. Gellert, a pilot, was employed by defendant Eastern Air Lines, Inc. After Gellert made written and verbal allegations that he had been penalized by Eastern for publicly disclosing an alleged engine defect in a passenger aircraft used by Eastern, a reporter contacted James Ashlock, the director of Eastern's news bureau, for comments. In the course of the conversation, Ashlock stated, inter alia, that Gellert was paranoid. Thereafter, Gellert filed a defamation action against Eastern in Florida state court. After a trial, a jury rendered a verdict for Gellert, who was awarded compensatory and punitive damages. Eastern's motion for directed verdict was denied. Eastern appealed.

Issue:

Were Ashlock's statements defamatory?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The appellate court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the matter for a new trial. The court ruled that Eastern was properly denied a directed verdict because Ashlock's comments were not pure opinion and were in fact defamatory because they implied that Gellert suffered from a mental affliction incompatible with his ability to carry out the responsibilities of his occupation. The court further ruled that Gellert was not entitled to punitive damages because there was no evidence that Eastern, as Ashlock's employer, was at fault. Finally, the court ruled that Eastern was entitled to a new trial because it was unduly restricted by the trial court in the exercise of its peremptory challenges to prospective jurors.

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