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Sommer v. Gabor

40 Cal. App. 4th 1455, 48 Cal. Rptr. 2d 235 (1995)

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Sommer v. Gabor

California Court of Appeal

40 Cal. App. 4th 1455, 48 Cal. Rptr. 2d 235 (1995)

Facts

Elke Sommer (plaintiff) was a German-born actress who had appeared in films, television, and stage productions since the 1950s. In 1990, a German magazine published an article wherein it claimed that famed actress and socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor (defendant) alleged that Sommer was broke, was forced to sell her Hollywood home to live in the worst part of town, was hanging out in sleazy bars, and was knitting pricy sweaters to get by financially. Sommer stated that she was devastated to hear of the statements and began to lose sleep over the issue. Gabor’s husband, Frederic Von Anhalt (defendant) claimed that he actually made the statements to the German magazine’s reporter rather than Gabor. Later that same year, a German newspaper sent a reporter to interview Von Anhalt over the incident. Von Anhalt told the reporter that Sommer could not afford a $500 charity-benefit ticket, that her bills were not being paid, that she was lying about her age, that she looked like a 100-year-old grandmother, and that she had no hair left on her head. Sommer’s elderly mother, who controlled fan mail, stated that Sommer began to receive mail from fans offering to help her financially based on the articles. Sommer filed suit in California state court against Gabor and Von Anhalt for defamation. The jury found in favor of Sommer and awarded her a combined $2 million in general damages. A special verdict from the jury further found that Gabor and Von Anhalt acted with malice, and thus another $3.3 million in punitive damages was awarded to Sommer. Gabor and Von Anhalt appealed, alleging that German defamation law should apply, that the court erred in its instructions to the jury and that it was error to admit evidence of emotional distress suffered by Sommer’s mother.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Lillie, J.)

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