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Latrell Sprewell Defamation Case

Latrell Sprewell gets a “boxer’s fracture,” Boxer’s fractures are when you break the metacarpal bone in your hand.

When asked, Sprewell appears to have been evasive about how it happened, and then finally said it happened when he was “frantically pulling on a rope” in rough waters. The New York Post’s bullshit detector went off, and they interviewed a number of witnesses who wouldn’t go on the record, but would confirm that there was a brawl, and that is how Sprewell broke his hand. Sprewell sues the Post for defamation.

The New York Appellate Division, wisely, tossed the case like so much salad and upholds the actual malice standard. Under that standard, the First Amendment prohibits a public figure from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood unless he proves that the statement was made with ‘actual malice’ — that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not. See Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 345 (1974).

The Court held:

The [actual malice] standard requires evidence demonstrating inferentially that the defendants subjectively had a high degree of awareness of probable falsity of the complained-of statements or that they entertained serious doubts as to the truth (see Khan v New York Times Co., 269 AD2d 74, 77 [2000]).

Assuming, arguendo, that defendants’ statements regarding how plaintiff injured his hand and his alleged attempt to cover up the incident are false, the Post and Berman are entitled to summary judgment. The information was not reported as incontrovertible fact, but rather cautioned the reader that it was based on two confidential witnesses and was denied by plaintiff. The record demonstrates that Berman subjectively believed the informants, whose partial description of the interior of plaintiff’s boat provided additional indicia of reliability.

However, Berman and the Post did not rely exclusively on the informants’ accounts, either in the articles or their summary judgment motion. Berman sought to verify or disprove the claims, by seeking comments from plaintiff, via his agent and publicist, and speaking with personnel within the Knicks organization, including the team coach, a public relations representative, and a confidential source, as well as seeking out three doctors, the Milwaukee Police Department, the Milwaukee Journal, and the McKinley Marina. Those investigative efforts demonstrate that Berman did not deliberately fail to seek confirmatory information or otherwise act with reckless disregard for the truth

Sorry Latrell, the First Amendment applies to you too. And for cryin’ out loud, there really is almost no other way to get a boxer’s fracture than in a brawl. Trust me, in my “past existence” I may (or may not) have had multiple (and by that I mean more than one) personality conflicts that resulted in a cast on my hand. Aaah… to be young, drunk, stupid, and bar fighting again…

Sprewell v. NYP Holdings, Inc., 2007 NY Slip Op 05369 (June 19, 2007).

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