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Terwilliger v. Wands

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Wands (Plaintiff), brought a slander action against the Defendant, Terwilliger (Defendant), claiming the Defendant made statements accusing the Plaintiff of having intercourse with a married woman and trying to keep this woman’s husband in jail.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Special damages must be claimed in a slander suit that is not slander per se. Only pecuniary injuries affecting one’s character will suffice.

    Facts. The Plaintiff proved at trial that the Defendant suggested that the Plaintiff was going to a Mrs. Fuller’s house to have intercourse, that this woman was a bad woman, and that the Plaintiff was doing everything in his power to keep Mrs. Fuller’s husband in the penitentiary so that he could have free access to Mrs. Fuller. The Plaintiff brought an action for slander. A motion for nonsuit was sustained by the trial court.

    Issue. Did the Plaintiff prove special damages, as is required when a slander cause of action is not slander per se?

    Held. No. Judgment affirmed.
    * The Plaintiff claims that he suffered poor health and was unable to attend to business after hearing of the Defendant’s reports. Special damages must have been the natural, immediate and legal consequences of the slander in question. It is said that special damages in general are whenever a person is prevented by the slander from receiving what would otherwise be conferred on him, even if it would have been gratuitous. In the present case, there is no proof that the Plaintiff’s character was injured. A sickness caused by fear of harm to character does not suffice, therefore the special damages relied on in this case do not support an action.

    Discussion. Four types of slander are actionable without proof of special damages under the common law. These are imputations (i) of a major crime; (ii) of a loathsome disease; (iii) affecting one’s business trade, profession, or office; (iv) of serious sexual misconduct.



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