ATM Security Camera Flaw Ends In $75,000 Online Defamation Award

online video defamation
A woman won a large defamation award after falsely being identified on a law enforcement website.

Woman Falsely Identified In Crime Stoppers Video Footage Posted Online

About two years ago, Shayla Funk, an occupational therapist, rolled up to an ATM, typed in her password, and took money from her account.

Little did she suspect that her ATM visit would result in a forced unpaid leave from her job – but that’s what happened.

Recently, however, Funk finally found redress via a $75,000 defamation award.

Police Department Posts Video in Attempt to Capture ATM Thief

“This young lady doesn’t look like your typical crook, but she is. She used someone’s stolen credit card and made a fake deposit at the ATM, then withdrew some cash. If you know who she is, leave us a tip HERE!”

Posted on linconcrimestoppers.com, the above caption accompanied video footage that featured Shayla Funk removing money from a bank machine. To make matters messier, a local TV station aired two segments about the story.

Women Suspended From Work Over Online Video

Predictably, people failed to practice restraint in the face of allegations (see recent Reddit debacle); in the court of public opinion, Funk had been tried and convicted. Even her boss, ostensibly aware of the allegations, opted to put her on unpaid leave.

But despite the jeers and sneers, Funk remained adamant that she was accessing her account, not stealing. Eventually, she filed an online defamation lawsuit against the Lincoln-Lancaster Crime Stoppers, Inc. and Lincoln Police Department – the parties reportedly responsible for linconcrimestoppers.com.

Bank’s Erroneous Time Stamp Leads To Misidentification and Defamation

Funk told the truth. She wasn’t a thief. The time-stamp on the bank’s security camera was incorrect, which precipitated handing over the wrong footage to police. Oops.

“Not My Website”

At trial, the defendants were playing a game of hot potato with the website on which the contested content appeared. Nobody wanted to admit they had control of the website. But evidence surfaced: an email, written by a police head, which referred to the site as “our website.”

In the end, the jury awarded Funk $75,000 in defamation damages – as the incident did have a materially negative effect on her life and career.

To Avoid A Defamation Lawsuit, Is “IMO” Enough?

Defamation law is widely misunderstood. Some people wrongly think defamation is simply a “negative opinion.” Other folks mistakenly believe adding “In my opinion” or “IMO” is a magical litigation shield, capable of warding off all defamation actions.

Neither assumption is accurate; negative opinions are a legitimate form of speech. And slapping an IMO in front of a false statement of fact may not keep you out of a courtroom.

Four Pillars of U.S. Defamation Law

So, what constitutes defamation in the United States? At the very least, to win a slander (spoken defamation) or libel (written or graphic defamation) lawsuit, plaintiffs must prove that:

  • The defendants made an unprivileged, false statement of fact,
  • About the plaintiff, which
  • Caused material or reputational harm, and
  • The defendants (depending on their public status) were either negligent in publicizing the information or acted with actual malice [linked].

Defamation law is nuanced. The four fundamentals are just the tip of the slander and libel law iceberg. If you want a more detailed explanation, head to our U.S. defamation law database by clicking here. You’ll find more detailed explanations of federal slander and libel regulations, in addition to statutes for all 50 states. To read more defamation law case studies, click here.

Speak With A Defamation Lawyer

Are you ready to speak with an attorney about an online reputation attack or defamation issue? A top AV-rated firm, with a 10-out-of-10 rating on lawyer review website AVVO.com, Kelly Warner lawyers understand the nooks and crannies of Internet defamation law – both online and off.

Get in touch today to start asking questions.

Article Sources

Pilger, L. (2015, July 8). Jury awards $75K in libel suit against Crime Stoppers. Retrieved August 24, 2015, from http://journalstar.com/news/local/911/jury-awards-k-in-libel-suit-against-crime-stoppers/article_8cd1502a-7cd0-5356-b266-97971ea124c5.html