Playboy Bunny's Hagar Libel Claims Revived
(CN) - Ex-Van Halen singer Sammy Hagar, who wrote in his autobiography that a former Playboy bunny lied about having his baby to extort him for money, must face libel charges, the 8th Circuit ruled.
Hagar, the former lead singer of Van Halen and Cabo Wabo tequila mogul, published "Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock" in 2011.
The autobiography, which sold more than 280,000 copies, devotes two pages to Hagar's encounter in Michigan with a former Playboy bunny, whom the court identifies only as Jane Doe.
Hagar wrote: "[She] came knocking at my door in the middle of the night in Detroit. I answered the door without any clothes - I sleep naked - and she pushes the door open, throws me on the bed, and starts blowing me. That's kind of tough to get up and walk away from. 'Son of a bitch,' I was thinking, 'I'm fucked now.' And sure enough, I was.
"About ten days later, [Hagar's manager, Ed] Leffler gets the phone call. She's pregnant. I smelled a setup. I was so pissed off. [Hagar's wife] Betsy would commit suicide. We hired an attorney and started dealing with her. I knew it was not my baby. It was extortion."
Writing that he had doubts as to whether Doe even gave birth, he noted that the woman said the baby died after just a few days.
"I don't believe she ever had a baby," Hagar wrote. "She may have had an abortion early on. Marshall Lever, my psychic with the sleeping dog, told me about it. 'It's not your baby,' he said. 'She's living with her boyfriend in New York. She has a boyfriend that's a musician and this is probably an extortion case. Don't worry, just relax, and once she has the baby, it's all going to go away.'"
Doe sued in court on claims of libel, false light invasion of privacy, emotional distress, breach of contract, and breach of the duty of good faith.
A federal judge found entirely for Hagar, but the 8th Circuit revived her libel claim Thursday.
"Hagar's statements regarding Doe's criminality, dishonesty, and sexual exploits have 'a natural tendency to provoke [Doe] to wrath or expose [her] to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule' within the community of individuals that recognize her as the subject of the statements," Judge Myron Bright wrote for a three-judge panel. "Therefore, we conclude that Hagar's statements are defamatory as a matter of law."
And "although Hagar does not name Doe in 'Red,' he concedes that those who already knew the 'story' of Hagar and Doe could recognize Doe as the subject of his statements," according to the judgment.
"Substantial truth" is a defense to defamation, but Hagar's statements in "Red" imply that Doe was a stranger to Hagar when she approached him - when she claims that the two had an on-and-off relationship for years before that night's incident.
It may also be possible to prove whether Doe lied about the pregnancy.
Since the book reveals that he gave Doe financial assistance - a figure she puts at $7,000 - Hagar may also have breached the contract between him and Doe, the court found.
"In granting summary judgment on Doe's claim, the district court found 'that the statements in Red contain nothing more than a vague reference to Hagar's relationship with Doe,'" Bright wrote. "We disagree. By acknowledging that he gave financial assistance to Doe, a jury could find that Hagar disclosed a term of the agreement even though he does not describe his financial assistance as a legal obligation."