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Kilian v. Doubleday & Co. - 367 Pa. 117, 79 A.2d 657 (1951)

Rule:

A charge of misconduct of any specific kind is not justified by proving plaintiff guilty of misconduct of a similar character. The misconduct relied upon in justification must be proved as broad as the charge; and the proof of the truth of one out of many charges does not constitute a justification.

Facts:

Plaintiff James A. Kilian was the subject of an article written about World War II activities in England. The article was published by defendant Doubleday & Company in a book compiling numerous war stories, and was written in such a way that, contrary to the evidence at trial, lead a reader to believe that the author was present and witnessed firsthand the events portrayed in the article. The article reported that Kilian was convicted of permitting cruel and unusual punishment of American soldiers. Kilian filed a libel action against the Doubleday in Pennsylvania state court. The trial court submitted to the jury the question whether the publication was substantially true, over Kilian's objections. The jury returned a verdict for Doubleday and denied Kilian's subsequent motion for new trial. Kilian appealed.

Issue:

Did the court properly deny Kilian's motion for new trial?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

On appeal, the state supreme court reversed the trial court's judgment. It held that Kilian was improperly denied a new trial as there was no evidence to sustain Doubleday's plea of justification on the ground that the publication was a true and accurate account of the observations of the author. In addition, the court ruled, the trial court was in error in submitting to the jury, as it did, the question of whether the publication was substantially true.

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