Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

N.M. Woman Sues Over 1970 Yearbook Photo on Novelty Flask

A New Mexico woman has filed suit against the makers of a novelty flask after discovering that the flask featured her yearbook photo from 1970.

Veronica Vigil's daughter originally found the flask while vacationing in Florida, reports the Santa Fe New Mexican. Along with Vigil's photograph, the flask features a caption reading, "I'm going to be the most popular girl in rehab!" As you might imagine, Vigil -- who now runs an auto-restoration business with her husband -- took umbrage with this use of her image.

But what can she do about it legally?

Lawsuit Alleges Defamation, Invasion of Privacy

After being alerted to the unauthorized use of her photo on the flask, Vigil filed a lawsuit in state court against Anne Taintor Inc., the makers of the flask. The suit, which has since been removed to federal court, claims that the use of Vigil's image on the flask constitutes defamation as well as invasion of privacy.

Although no longer for sale on the Anne Taintor website, the flask still appears online at Amazon.com, though the product is listed as "currently unavailable." Also named in the lawsuit was a New Mexico store that reportedly also sold other Anne Taintor items featuring Vigil's photograph, although the store denies carrying the items, reports the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Invasion of Privacy: False Light

There are several ways a plaintiff may prove invasion of privacy, including being portrayed in a false light. False light is similar to defamation in that it involves false or misleading information published about a person causing harm to that person's reputation. However, in false light claims, the plaintiff is not required to prove the defendant actually made a false statement. Instead, the plaintiff must merely prove that:

  • The defendant published information about the plaintiff that portrays the plaintiff in a false or misleading light,
  • The information would be offensive or embarrassing to a reasonable person, and
  • The information was published with reckless disregard as to its offensiveness.

In her lawsuit, Vigil describes herself as "an active member of her church [who] does not consume alcohol or drugs." The use of her image without her permission on the flask, coupled with the caption accompanying her picture, makes it appear, according to the complaint, that Vigil "either has a problem with drugs and alcohol personally, or she condones the use of her image to make light of an important social issue that affects her community."

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