Imagine you were taking it easy on a Friday night and plopped on the couch to watch “20/20.” Now think about what you would do if one of the segments featured your ex, who was announcing to the world that you’re the lying, no-good, jerk-face inspiration for their background-check service.
Well, that’s exactly what happened to David Williams. His ex-girlfriend, creator of icheckmates.com, Kelley Cahill, was featured in a 20/20 piece entitled “Blinded by Love: Kelley Cahill’s Ordeal.” In it, Cahill accused Williams of being a dastardly cad. Williams, however, says Cahill is lying and filed a defamation lawsuit.
Williams v. Cahill: The 20/20 Defamation Lawsuit
According to David Williams, he was shocked after viewing the 20/20 episode entitled “Blinded by Love: Kelley Cahill’s Ordeal.” The piece was about his ex-girlfriend, with whom he’d allegedly broken up with 5 years earlier. During the episode, she accused him of scoundrel-like behavior, ans cited it as the inspiration for her business icheckmate.com – an online service that allows Internet daters to check-up on potential mates before making substantial contact.
In a television segment hosted by Christopher Cuomo and edited by Jack Pyle, Cahill accused Williams of cheating, concealing a marriage and raking her over the coals financially. Williams insists that Cahill knew he was separated and not fully divorced when they were together; he also insists he lavished Cahill with gifts and supported her financially while dating.
During the program, Cuomo allegedly reported that Williams declined to comment. But Williams avers that Cuomo’s statement was false and that when he was contacted by ABC, he instructed them to look at public records that would prove she was lying. Williams also says he did not offer a statement to the news program because he didn’t have enough time to procure legal counsel before the segment aired.
Williams’ defamation claim asserts that ABC failed to engage in “meaningful research to determine whether Cahill was being truthful, and failed to give Williams any, or any adequate, opportunity to [refute] Cahill’s allegations treating her story objectively.” He’s asking for a jury trial and claiming publication of private faces, intrusion, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Celebrity Defamation Considerations: Will Williams Be Considered A Private Citizen or A Public Figure?
United States defamation law provides for different defamation standards for private citizens and public figures. And as social media and reality television grow in popularity, the lines between a “purely private person” and a “public figure” are increasingly blurred. For example, in a recent publicity rights lawsuit, a judge ruled that “everybody is famous on Facebook.”
So in the case of Williams vs. Cahill, will the fact that the 20/20 episode was publicly broadcast effect the case? Will Williams automatically be considered a “celebrity” or “public figure” because his story was told on a prime-time network program, even though he may not have authorized the use of his name? To be honest, it may come down to the judge. But if Williams can provide ample evidence that he did not commit the acts attributed to him on the television segment, he may come out on top. Since he didn’t ask for the attention, a judge may decide Williams doesn’t have to meet the “actual malice” standards of a “celebrity defamation” lawsuit.
What Will Williams Have To Prove To Win This Defamation Lawsuit?
In order for David Williams to win this defamation lawsuit, he’ll need to prove that Cahill was lying and that said lying harmed him materially. He could submit public records that prove his side of the story; he can call witnesses to attest to his claims; he can gather any and all personal evidence that absolve him of any wrongdoing.
Williams would also need to have evidence proving that he was in some way harmed by the broadcast. Did he lose his job over the incident? Is he now unable to find new work because his reputation has been tarnished? In the simplest terms, any plaintiff in a defamation lawsuit should gather as much evidence as possible to prove that the material in question is connected to their harmed his reputation and/or diminished bank account.
If Williams can prove that Cahill harmed his reputation for the sole purpose of promoting icheckmate.com, she could find herself out of business — as puffery is one thing, but blatantly defaming another individual to promote a service will not win over many judges and juries.
If, however, Cahill is in the right and the powers that be find that she did not commit defamation, then Williams may have worsened his own reputation by calling further attention to the issue via the lawsuit.
Papers were filed in Orange Country California Superior Court.
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