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Law School Case Brief

Terwilliger v. Wands - 17 N.Y. 54 (1858)

Rule:

The action for slander is given by the law as a remedy for injuries affecting a man's reputation or good name by malicious, scandalous and slanderous words, tending to his damage and derogation. It is injuries affecting the reputation only which are the subject of the action. In the case of slanderous words actionable per se, the law, from their natural and immediate tendency to produce injury, adjudges them to be injurious, though no special loss or damage can be proved. But with regard to words that do not apparently and upon the face of them import such defamation as will of course be injurious, it is necessary that the plaintiff should aver some particular damage to have happened. As to what constitutes special damages, the court mentions the loss of a marriage, loss of hospitable gratuitous entertainment, preventing a servant or bailiff from getting a place, the loss of customers by a tradesman; and says that in general whenever a person is prevented by the slander from receiving that which would otherwise be conferred upon him, though gratuitously, it is sufficient.

Facts:

Plaintiff and defendant were neighbors. Defendant allegedly spoke with several people regarding plaintiff's continuous visits to a married woman's home. Defendant told people that the married woman was bad and the only reason plaintiff visited her was for sexual intercourse. Plaintiff initiated a slander action against defendant. At trial, plaintiff presented witnesses who testified regarding defendant's allegations and the mental stress the allegations caused plaintiff. The court granted defendant's motion for a non-suit finding that defendant never spoke to plaintiff regarding the allegations and there was no evidence of damages.

Issue:

Whether there was evidence that plaintiff's character had suffered from the allegations or that his reputation had been damaged?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

On appeal, the court affirmed the decision. The court held that plaintiff did not prove that his mental stress and difficulties arose directly and legitimately from defendant's allegations. There was no evidence that plaintiff's character had suffered from the allegations or that his reputation had been damaged.

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