False report of cancer not automatically libelous
NEW YORK–A false statement that a person has cancer is not libel per se, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in New York City unanimously ruled in early January.
In late August 1991, the National Enquirer reported that Chen Sam, a well-known publicist, had been diagnosed with cancer. Under the doctrine of libel per se, a false statement that a person has a “loathsome disease” can be found defamatory without evidence that the statement harmed the person’s reputation.
The Appellate Division held that cancer does not fall within the category of such loathsome diseases and granted summary judgment to the Enquirer.
Sam had argued that cancer should be considered a loathsome disease because of its association with AIDS. Sexually transmitted diseases are generally considered to fall within the category of loathsome diseases.
In rejecting Sam’s argument, the court stated, “Under [Sam’s] analysis, pneumonia or colds would fall into the same category because of their association with AIDS.”
The court’s decision reversed a February 1995 ruling by the Supreme Court in New York City, a trial court, denying the Enquirer’s motion for summary judgment. (Sam v. Enquirer/Star Group, Inc.; Media Counsel: Mark Jackson, New York)