An unprivileged falsehood need not entail universal hatred to constitute a cause of action for libel. That it will be known by a large number to regard a plaintiff with contempt is enough to do practical harm. Where it is impossible for a court to say that the obvious tendency of what is imputed to a plaintiff by an advertisement would not seriously hurt her standing with a considerable and respectable class in the community, it is the plaintiff's right to prove her case and go to the jury.
An advertisement was printed in the defendant newspaper, The Chicago Sunday Tribune, which included the portrait of Mrs A. Schuman, the plaintiff; the printed advertisement likewise averred that plaintiff was a nurse who recommended pure malt whiskey as a tonic for all conditions. The plaintiff thereafter instituted an action for libel against the defendant newspaper that she was not a nurse and that she was an abstainer from whiskey and all spirituous liquors. The defendant pleaded not guilty. At the trial, subject to exceptions, the judge excluded the plaintiff's testimony in support of her aforementioned allegations, and directed a verdict for the defendant. His action was sustained by the Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the publication was not a libel. According to the Court of Appeals, at most, the publication would entitle the plaintiff only to nominal damages, there being no special damage alleged. Subsequently, the plaintiff sought review of the Circuit Court of Appeals’ judgment.
Did the Court of Appeals err in ruling that the publication does not constitute libel and thereby sustaining the trial court's action in directing a verdict for the defendant?
According to the Court, although the signature in the advertisement was not of plaintiff's name, the publication was of and concerning plaintiff because many might have recognized her face. The Court ruled that the alleged libel could not be excused on the ground that the portrait was published by mistake. Because it was not impossible to say that the advertisement tended to seriously hurt plaintiff's standing with a considerable and respectable class in the community, the Court held that it was plaintiff's right to prove her case and go to the jury.