$160K Libel Verdict for Accusing Stepmother of Poisoning Father Upheld
From Osowski v. Harer, decided today by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, in an opinion by Judge Randall Slieter, joined by Presiding Judge Jennifer Frish and Judge John Smith:
This defamation case, commenced by respondent Karen K. Osowski, arises from statements appellant Edie Harer made to law enforcement several months after the death of Harer’s father (decedent). Harer made statements which suggested that Osowski—Harer’s stepmother and decedent’s second wife—had killed decedent.
Osowski married decedent in July 2006. Harer did not attend the wedding. In 2013, decedent discovered a cloud on the title to his property and sought signatures on a corrective deed to remedy the problem. Harer and her siblings refused to execute the corrective deed and, as a result, decedent cleared title to his home through a quiet-title action. This led decedent to “cut off all communications with his children” and sign a will that disinherited his children.
Despite their disinheritance, Osowski maintained contact with decedent’s children. This included an email in early September 2018 informing Harer that decedent’s health was “getting worse by the day” and she was scheduling him for cancer testing. In mid-October, Osowski informed Harer that decedent “had been tested head to toe and all is good.”
On January 18, 2019, Osowski called 911 to report finding decedent dead in their home. A Cook County Sheriff’s deputy responded to the call and investigated the death. Based on the deputy’s description, the medical examiner declined to complete an autopsy because the death appeared to be from natural causes, and the deputy agreed that nothing “looked suspicious.” Six days after her father’s death, Harer called the medical examiner, asked why an autopsy had not been performed, and asked for one to be completed. It was explained to her that an autopsy would be difficult and likely uninformative at that point because the body had been embalmed.
In February 2019, Osowski’s daughter informed Harer that decedent had updated his will in 2014. The updated will left decedent’s estate to Osowski. Approximately two weeks later, an attorney Osowski retained to represent her in an anticipated probate proceedi
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