false light

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False light is one of several torts under the category of invasion of privacy where a defendant is accused of spreading falsehoods about a plaintiff that would be considered objectionable by the average person. The tort typically requires that a plaintiff show that the defendant intentionally or recklessly made a false statement, that was made publicly, was a highly or outrageously offensive statement, and caused personal harm to the plaintiff such as emotional distress.

This tort overlaps often with defamation, where the lies spread can also be defamatory. The differences between the two torts vary greatly depending on the jurisdiction, with some states not even recognizing false light. In jurisdictions where false light claims are allowed, the two torts tend to be distinguished based upon the type of injury. False light is supposed to help compensate the plaintiff for emotional and personal harm stemming from the false claims, but defamation tends to be portrayed as compensating for the harm done to the plaintiff’s reputation. Another difference between the two is that false light may have a lower bar than defamation as false light only requires the false claim to be “highly offensive” to the reasonable person. Defamation requires more proof that the harm damages reputation. 

[Last updated in December of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team