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Burton v. Crowell Publishing Company

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Burton sued Crowell Publishing Company after publishing a photograph that made Burton look as if he was guilty of indecent exposure.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A defendant is liable for libel if he ridicules a plaintiff due to a public advertisement.

    Facts.

    Crowell Publishing Company (Cromwell) published a cigarette advertisement featuring Burton, a horse jockey. A blurring of the photograph made it seem as if Burton was guilty of indecent exposure. Burton sued claiming that he did not see the photograph that was chosen to be used in the advertisement, and the trial court dismissed Burton’s complaint.

    Issue.

    Whether a defendant is liable for libel if he ridicules a plaintiff due to a public advertisement?

    Held.

    Yes. The judgment of the trial court is reversed. Although the reasonable person would conclude that the photograph was a result of a camera issue, Cromwell nonetheless published the photograph. Cromwell’s failure to show Burton the photograph prior to publication exposed Burton to more than trivial ridicule.

    Discussion.

    A defendant is liable for libel if he ridicules a plaintiff due to a public advertisement. It does not matter whether the defendant had the intention to defame the plaintiff.


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