Zimmerman’s Lawsuit Against Al Sharpton, NBC, and the Martin Family Attorneys
In a twist not even the best fiction writers could have seen coming, the Trayvon Martin case, instigated by a couple of sheister attorneys looking to make money from a tragedy, will reportedly end with George Zimmerman recovering legal damages from Al Sharpton, NBC, and the Trayvon Martin family attorneys, Daryl Parks and Benjamin Crump.
The first claim is likely to be intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). To be successful, Zimmerman will have to show that conduct of Al Sharpton and NBC was so extreme and outrageous that it transcended all bounds of decency; that they acted with either the purpose to cause Zimmerman extreme emotional distress or acted with reckless disregard for Zimmerman’s emotional well being, and that Al Sharpton and NBC caused him identifiable emotional damage. Here, Al Sharpton publically claimed that Trayvon Martin was murdered and that George Zimmerman should be arrested for the crime. The ensuing civil unrest and threats of racial violence caused Zimmerman to go into hiding. There is no doubt that crying racism and murder to a group of self-radicalized Black militants is beyond all bounds of decency. Any White peron accused of killing an unarmed Black child because of racism would be terrified of the mob’s reaction. If Zimmerman has been treated by a physician for any kind of emotional trauma caused by Sharpton linking him to a murder that never occured, Sharpton’s going to be held responsible.
NBC will likely also be found liable to Zimmerman for IIED because a producuer who admittedly altered an audio recording to make it look like Zimmerman harbored racial prejudices against Blacks. The result made all of America believe that George Zimmerman was the most wretched racist on the planet. Again, this sort of behavior is wholly unacceptable in a society that values established due process and the search for the truth. This act, combined with Sharpton’s incessant race-baiting no doubt caused Zimmerman intense emotional pain.
The second against Al Sharpton and NBC claim is likely to be twofold- defamation and the invasion of privacy. The common law elements of defamation are 1) a false statement, 2) about or concerning the plaintiff, 3) communicated to a third person, and 4) damage to the plaintiff’s reputation. While it’s generally held that defamatory speech is slander and written communications are libel, where the speech is recorded and widely available, the proper claim is libel, which is held to be the more serious of the two as video recordings become permanent because they are ubiquitiously reproduced and shared across the Internet via social networking.Clearly, Al Sharpton repeatedly told people that Trayvon Martin was murdered by a racist and that George Zimmerman should be held responsible. As we are finding out, there was no racially motivated murder here. Sharpton’s statements on MSNBC and at the numerous rallies he appeared at were patently false, and they were clearly about George Zimmerman. The damage to George Zimmerman’s reputation is grave. He’s been branded a racist child murder by Sharpton. He had to quit his job and leave his community because of the damage done to his reputation.
While Sharpton’s employer, NBC, would normally not be liable for Sharpton’s intentional torts, they certainly could be held responsible for his behavior under a negligence theory. If NBC knew, or should’ve known, that Sharpton’s on-air race-baiting and vitriolic conjecture would lead to the destruction of George Zimmerman’s reputation, and did nothing to prevent Sharpton from harming Zimmerman, NBC will also be looking at a negligence action.
An invasion of privacy claim will stand against NBC because of the altering of the audio tape. The publication of the audio placing George Zimmerman in a false light that is offensive to a reasonuble perosn under the circumstances, and satisfies the main elements of a false light invasion of privacy claim. Because the producer has reportedly admitted to altering the audio to make the story seem like a hate crime, there will be little problem with establishing intent here. Because this is a story of public interest, Zimmerman will have to show that it was done with malice. What could be more malicious than deliberately portraying someone as a racist child killer without a shred of proof?
The third claim will be against the Martin family attorney whose professional malpractice brought a nation to the precipice of a race riot. It was attorney Benjamin Crump who contacted Al Sharpton. Crump called Sharpton after trying to intimidate Sheriff Lee into arresting Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. When Crump realized he wasn’t going to be able to bring a wrongful death suit against the city or county (his specialty by the way is suing state and local governments), Crump decided to invent a racial controversy in order to force the Sanford Police Department into a settlement. Benjamin Crump manufactured outrage over a hate crime that was itself manufactured. This is negligence of the worst sort. It’s willful.
As an attorney, Benjamin Crump has a duty to adhere to the principles of law. If you don’t have a merit-based case, the law holds you have no case. It is malpractice to invent knowingly invent one. The harm caused by Crump’s breach of duty is mind-numbing. There were death threats to Zimmerman and his family from militant Black racists. There were retalitory killings of White people. All of this on top of the injury to George Zimmerman. He has lost everything for no other reason than a greedy attorney wanted to shake down the police for money. It’s shameful. It’s this sort of behavior that gives legal professionals a horrible public image. Thanks a bunch Ben.