Updated: Jul 20
On March 3, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer announced on Twitter that he filed a defamation lawsuit in federal court against the sports news website Deadspin. In his legal complaint, Bauer alleges that Deadspin published an article covering his sexual assault allegation and that the article included false statements that were defamatory in nature.
In May of 2021, a woman accused Bauer of sexually assaulting her after the two met up several times a month before. In response to these accusations, the Dodgers Pitcher was placed on administrative leave in July of 2021. Bauer later agreed to extend his administrative leave through the remainder of the season. Around this time, Major League Baseball initiated an investigation into this matter, which is currently ongoing. Later last summer, his accuser filed a temporary ex parte restraining order, which she requested to be made permanent. This order was denied by a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge and the ex parte restraining order was dissolved. As for the criminal investigation into the alleged unlawful conduct, prosecutors last month decided not to bring charges against Bauer for this incident.
Bauer claims that Deadspin published an article on July 6, 2021, titled “Trevor Bauer should never pitch again” and in this article claimed that his accuser suffered a fractured skull by the pitcher. He alleges that this article is part of a malicious campaign against him by Deadspin.
For a plaintiff to prove defamation, they must show the defendant made a false statement, that the statement was published to a third party, the defendant exhibits fault, and the plaintiff suffered some harm.
Bauer and his attorney are likely to succeed on proving that Deadspin made a false statement, that the statement was published to a third party, and that he suffered some harm from the publication. If his legal complaint is accurate, the complainant’s medical records do not show that she suffered a skull fracture and that there was no initial CT scan that showed a skull fracture. Thus, Deadspin’s statement that she suffered a skull fracture was a false statement. This statement was published in an article on Deadspin’s website and links to the article were shared on Twitter and Facebook. Bauer claims that the publication of these statements has caused harm to his reputation, anguish, humiliation, embarrassment, and financial loss.
As for the fault element of defamation, a public official, such as Bauer, must prove the defendant had actual malice in publishing a defamatory statement. Actual malice may be proven by showing the defendant published the statement when they knew it was false or the defendant acted with reckless disregard for the statement’s truth or falsity. Courts generally examine defamatory statements in light of the entire publication and not just the alleged defamatory statement.
Bauer’s attorney might have a difficult time proving that Deadspin published the July 6 article knowing the statement about the skull fracture was false. At that time, it might not have been readily apparent that his accuser did not suffer from a skull fracture because of Bauer’s conduct. His complaint argues that since other sports news sites, such as ESPN and The Athletic, issued corrections explaining they mistakenly reported there was a skull fracture before July 6, that Deadspin must have known that the statements were false. Bauer also alleges that there was actual malice because this article was one of numerous articles that constitute a malicious campaign against him. However, proving actual malice does not require the defendant to have acted intentionally, they must have acted with knowledge that the statements were false or with reckless disregard for their truth.
Deadspin might raise the defense of retraction, which shields a defendant who made a defamatory statement from being liable so long as they issue a retraction of the allegedly defamatory statement. According to a USA Today article, Deadspin issued a statement explaining that a CT scan found no skull fracture. If Bauer can somehow overcome this defense and prove Deadspin initially knew the statement about a skull fracture was false, he is likely to win in court.
Andrew Wise is a third-year law student at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. He is passionate about baseball, especially minor league baseball, and college football. You can follow Andrew on Twitter and/or on LinkedIn.
Image via The New York Times (Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)