Recently, Matthiesen, Wickert & Lehrer, S.C. (MWL) successfully argued an appeal regarding a firefighter’s claims of defamation. The dispute stemmed from a local television broadcast in which a reporter discussed the disabled status of local firefighter. The firefighter had injured his elbow and ulnar nerve, (commonly called the “funny-bone”) resulting in numbness and tingling of his fingers. Despite that injury, and resulting disability rating as determined by the State’s doctors, the firefighter was able to do things like compete in triathlons, water ski, and partake in other physically taxing activities. MWL’s client, the fire chief, made comments to the local TV reporter about the situation. This story was ultimately picked up by a national television broadcast, and debated on a relatively highly-rated television show by guest commentators. Suffice it to say, that television broadcast did not paint the firefighter, at least in part, in a favorable light.
After the not so flattering comments on the local TV broadcast, and on national television, the firefighter brought a lawsuit against the fire chief, the national cable television network that had picked up the story from the local broadcast, and the commentators. The plaintiff alleged in part that statements made by the fire chief were defamatory on several levels. Chiefly, the allegations were that statements made indicating that the system, and by inference the firefighter, needed to be exposed, and that the firefighter may not have been acting truthfully were defamatory. Ultimately, MWL was able to obtain a judgment dismissing these defamation claims in the circuit court. That decision was affirmed on appeal. In a nutshell, the court ruled that the statements made by the fire chief were not defamatory as a matter of law, and the firefighter had no viable cause of action. Although the national network and commentators was not represented by MWL, those parties were also dismissed.
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