Lindsay Lohan Sues Fox News Over Cocaine Use Statement

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Actress Lindsay Lohan and her mother Dina filed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News, Sean Hannity, and Hannity’s guest commentator Michelle Fields on February 2 over allegations that the mother and daughter did cocaine together.

The alleged statements occurred on a February 4, 2014 Hannity episode where Fields and Hannity discussed celebrity drug overdoses. Fields can be heard saying, “Lindsay Lohan is doing cocaine with her mother.”

Mediaite.com has a clip of the segment, which you can view here.

The Lohans are seeking compensatory and punitive damages and “will continue to suffer severe mental and emotional distress; embarrassment and humiliation; pain and suffering; and economic loss, including loss of income, entertainment and acting contracts, present and future diminished income and economic opportunities,” according to E!.

Moreover, E! further reports that a Fox News spokesperson issued a statement saying, “We will defend this case to the fullest. The remark about which Lindsay and Dina Lohan complain was made on live television by a guest nearly a year ago. We removed the segment from our archives altogether last February and also apologized on-air. At that time, the Lohans did not make any demands for money, and we are surprised they are doing so now.”

A big issue in the case will likely surround when Fox News took down the segment. Nevertheless, I want to talk about a more elementary, and arguably more interesting, area of defamation law that will have an immediate effect on the case’s outcome.

In slander cases, the first question that needs to be asked is if the statement is true or false. If the statement is true here, then Lohan’s case will not succeed.

If the statement is false, victory or defeat in slander cases comes down to various burdens of proof that a potential plaintiff needs to prove. Burdens of proof in a slander case vary depending on whether the plaintiff is a private citizen or public figure. Since the younger Lohan is a global celebrity, she will likely qualify as a public figure, and in particular a general purpose public figure. Being a general purpose public figure, she will have to prove that Fields’ statement was made with knowledge that the statement was false or that Fields said the statement with a reckless disregard to the statement’s falsity. In other words, Lohan will have to prove that Fields made the statement with actual malice.

Lohan’s mother may classify as a different type of public figure, that is, a limited purpose public figure. A limited purpose public figure is someone who is a private citizen who thrusts herself into a public controversy. Limited purpose public figure must also prove that a defamatory statement was made with actual malice. Nevertheless, an argument can be made that Lohan’s mother is a general purpose public figure because of her Living Lohan fame.

Regardless, given the recent multimillion dollar libel verdict in favor of Jesse Ventura, I doubt that Fox News will want to prolong this issue all the way to trial, despite its statement that it will defend the case to the fullest. I will be surprised if the case is not settled out of court.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article referred to Lohan’s suit as libel; the suit is one of defamation.

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry is a graduate of St. John’s University School of Law whose goal is to become a publishing and media law attorney. He has interned at William Morris Endeavor, Rodale, Inc., Columbia University Press, and is currently interning at Hachette Book Group and volunteering at the Media Law Resource Center, which has given him insight into the legal aspects of the publishing and media industries. Contact Joe at staff@LawStreetMedia.com.



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