Torts II, Pages 888–890

Kilian v. Doubleday & Co., Inc.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, 1951

Facts:

Defendant published a book written by World War II veterans. Upon pressure by an editor be more vivid, one story told of an American prison camp where a corrupt colonel constantly beat the prisoners, reigned as a dictator, and got off light even though he was convicted for it after the war. The colonel was actually convicted of negligence but was acquitted of any actual wrongdoing.

Procedural History:

Jury rendered a verdict for defendant.

Issue:

Can defendant use the defense of the account being a true and accurate account of the author's observations?

Plaintiff's Argument:

The publication was "a true and accurate account of events which were observed by the author of the article in question."

Rules:

  • LexisNexis IconWestLaw LogoGoogle Scholar LogoPage 890

    [I]n order to support a defense of truth, it is necessary merely to prove that it was substantially true

  • LexisNexis IconWestLaw LogoGoogle Scholar LogoPage 890

    "Specific charges cannot be justified by showing the plaintiff's general bad character; and if the accusation is one of particular misconduct, . . . it is not enough to show a different offense, even though it be a more serious one . . . "

Reasoning:

The author did not actually observe such things. While defendant produced testimony from soldiers who were at the camp about punishments they sustained, none could testify as to the punishments that defendant's author described.

Holding:

No, defendant cannot use the defense of truth. Reversed and new trial awarded.

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