Imagine a person, Mr. X, who says something really bad about another person. Let's say he falsely accuses him of robbing a bank and abandoning his children.

In fact, he says it twice. He says it once while being interviewed by a TV station. He says it again in a book he wrote and sells through his company, Bad Books, Inc.

Is the following statement correct?:

Mr. X can be personally sued for libel over his statement on TV. But since he has incorporated, he can't be personally sued for what he says in his book. However, his company can be sued for the second statement.


Nope, depending on jurisdiction. In general, he can be sued for both torts, but the corporation can also be sued for the book. In practice, it will also be sued for the statement, which will be construed as an attempt to promote the book.

The general rule is that anyone may be held liable for their own tortious misconduct. It may be that other people can also be held liable, under a theory of vicarious liability. But the bad actor is still responsible.

There are exceptions. For instance, in California an employee of a corporation who commits a tort may not be liable individually for the tort if it was done in the course and scope of employment. There are also variations by jurisdiction - in some places in the world, the corporate veil is a shield over even the owners' tortious misconduct. So your mileage may vary.

Side note - it would not be unusual, in a situation like this, for Mr. X to be personally liable for the debts of Bad Books Inc., if it is a mere instrumentality of his own identity. In that circumstance, it would hardly matter who was made to answer because the damages come out of Mr. X's pocket. And, as a practical matter, a plaintiff will typically name both Mr. X and Bad Books Inc. if there is any basis for doing so, because Bad Books Inc. probably has insurance that may respond.

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  • Good answer (+1). "as a practical matter, a plaintiff will typically name both Mr. X and Bad Books Inc." That is what I did in the defamation lawsuit I filed against my former employer (an IT intermediary), although not so much because of insurance (which is a valid reason). I named both person and company so as to avoid the risk that the individual would allege he has no personal resources and/or that his torts are within scope of "managing" of his company. – Iñaki Viggers Aug 27 '18 at 14:58

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