N.C. Court: Disgruntled Publisher Didn’t Libel Insurance Adjuster in Column

September 21, 2006

A disgruntled magazine publisher did not commit libel against an insurance adjuster when he wrote a column criticizing the agent’s handling of his claim, North Carolina’s Court of Appeals ruled this week.

Bernie Reeves, editor and publisher of Metro Magazine, wrote an op-ed piece in 2003 after he said his car was stolen and his insurer did little to help. Reeves directly called agent Sybil Daniels and Progressive Insurance Co. “fascists,” likened the insurance agent to a communist and suggested she was a Nazi.

Daniels sued Reeves and the magazine for libel.

But the court found the statements weren’t libelous because “rhetorical hyperbole and expressions of opinion not asserting provable facts are protected speech.”

“In his essay, Reeves is obviously disgruntled and frustrated by what he perceives to be Progressive’s and (Daniels’) negative attitudes toward his claim, and he makes no attempt to disguise his indignation, resorting to colorful and patently absurd descriptions of (Daniels) and Progressive,” wrote Chief Judge John Martin in the unanimous decision.

Metro Magazine has a circulation of 40,000 in the Triangle area.

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