Compare Insurance Rates & Save

Sticks and Stones...

Sep 30, 2007

By Anonymous

Words may hurt you and result in defamation lawsuits In one of the most recognizable commercials of today, a caveman-that's right, a caveman-becomes angered over an insurer's claims that filling out an application for its auto insurance is "so easy, even a caveman can do it." Subsequent commercials have the caveman venting his frustration with news reporters, news analysts and even a therapist. However, if that caveman really existed today, could he sue for defamation of character?

The 2008 presidential campaign began early this year, giving potential candidates the opportunity to make more speeches and public appearances and participate in more debates than in previous presidential elections. Already, some candidates have made statements that they have been forced to "rephrase" or take back entirely. Where is the line drawn between freedom of speech and defamation of character?

During the Tuesday sessions of next month's PLUS annual convention, one panel session will focus on those questions and more, centering around the potential for lawsuits that may come about as the result of public statements in commercial advertisements and in political speeches.

Mike DiSilvestro, vice president/corporate expression product manager for Media/Professional Insurance, will head the panel titled "Did I Say That? Insuring Commercial and Political Speech." Panelists will include: David Smallman, an attorney with Wollmuth, Maher & Deutsch; Jim Innocenzi, president, Sandler-Innocenzi; and Chris Keegan, senior vice president, Willis.

"Things are getting pretty nasty out there," says DiSilvestro. "In the area of defamation of character, we're seeing every kind of claim there is. Our panelists will be taking on both commercial freedom of speech and political freedom of speech. Jim Innocenzi is one of the premier media people in Washington, D.C., and he has done speeches for politicians and written political ad campaigns. He's going to talk about what is going on in the political scene in terms advertising. David Smallman is an attorney with vast experience in this area and Chris Keegan will present the insurance broker's view of providing insurance for political campaigns."

Specific cases will be discussed during the panel session, according to DiSilvestro. One case likely to be discussed is the Nike vs. Kasky affair, in which Nike was sued for false advertising in ads it took out that were intended to defend itself against allegations that it fostered sweatshop operations to manufacture its products. "Part of the problem is that information travels so fast these days. You can say something in the morning and by the evening find what you said on somebody's blog."

DiSilvestro says that the First Amendment is often a defense in defamation cases, but more so for political statements than for commercial advertising. "The first amendment was originally designed to protect political discourse. The commercial side does not have the same level of protection under the amendment. Of course, the best defense in a defamation lawsuit is the truth. If you can prove something you've said is the truth, then you should win your case."

Says DiSilvestro: These are the things we will be discussing at the PLUS annual. We want to get these issues across to the audience, and we hope to do this through a lively discussion and audience participation."

"In the area of defamation of character, we're seeing every kind of claim there is."

- Mike DiSilvestro

Vice President/Corporate Expression Product Manager

Media/Professional Insurance

Copyright Rough Notes Co., Inc. Oct 2007

(c) 2007 Rough Notes. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

Insurance News: Sticks and Stones... ; Get an insurance quote! « Back