America’s former favorite TV dad’s fall from grace has been a harrowing and conflicting experience for longtime fans. In the wake of rape allegations, Cosby’s attorney issued numerous statements denying the allegations. One statement, issued in letter form to a news organization, became the basis of a defamation lawsuit against Cosby brought by one of his rape accusers. Last week, this defamation suit was dismissed by a federal court because the judge ruled that the letter, which formed the basis of the claim, was drafted in such a way to immunize the writer from defamation liability.
The lawsuit was filed by Katherine McKee, an actress and former girlfriend of Sammy Davis Jr., who told her story during a 2014 interview about how Cosby raped her in 1974. After she told her story, Cosby’s attorney issued a written statement to the news outlet that called Ms. McKee’s story into question, and opined that she was not telling the truth. McKee’s defamation case asserted that this letter, in essence, falsely called her a liar and caused her reputational harm and damages.
Reasoned Opinions Are Not Defamation
The court found that the letter issued by Cosby’s attorney did not amount to defamation because all of the purportedly defamatory statements were couched as reasoned opinions supported by non-defamatory facts. This reasoning was supported by the fact that the letter contained citations to sources for the non-defamatory facts upon which the opinions were based.
Generally, opinions cannot be considered as defamation. Defamation requires a showing that the statements made were both false and caused damage. Opinions, due to their peculiar subjective nature, so long as a reasonable listener would understand the statement as an opinion, cannot form the basis of a defamation claim.
Cosby’s Not Off the Hook
While Cosby, who is nearly 80 years old now, may have been able to escape civil liability on this matter, there are other claims still pending. He is currently set to go to trial this year on the criminal charges stemming from the alleged drugging and rape of Andrea Constand in 2004.
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