False Light Invasions of Privacy
In 1947, when she was 10 years old, Eleanor Sue Leverton of Birmingham, Alabama, was struck by a car, knocked down, and nearly run over. As the injured child was being lifted off the pavement by a woman bystander, a newspaper photographer who happened to be nearby shot a picture of the scene. His powerful, dramatic photograph was published the following morning in a Birmingham newspaper.
Nearly 2 years later, the Curtis Publishing Company, parent company of the Saturday Evening Post, used that same picture--it had been purchased from a photo syndicate house--to illustrate a magazine piece on pedestrian carelessness. The article was entitled "They Ask to Be Killed," and underneath Miss Leverton's photograph was this subheading: "Safety education in schools has reduced child accidents measurably, but unpredictable darting through traffic still takes a sobering toll." Beside the title was a box that read: "Do you invite massacre by your own carelessness? Here's how thousands have committed suicide by scorning laws that were passed to keep them alive."
Miss Leverton and her parents resented the implication that her own misfortune should be twisted into something quite different--that is, a near-tragedy brought on by her own carelessness. Indeed, the Birmingham police concluded at the time that Miss Leverton's accident happened not because of her own carelessness, but because the motorist had run through a red light. The Levertons sued for an unwarranted invasion of her privacy and collected, in this case, $5,000. The appeals court agreed that the judgment was appropriate: "The sum total of all this is that this particular plaintiff, the legitimate subject for publicity for one particular accident, now becomes a pictorial, frightful example of pedestrian carelessness. This, we think, exceeds the bounds of privilege." 1 In other words, Miss Leverton had been placed in a false light.