HELP! I'M BEING SUED FOR DEFAMATION. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
- By Andrew Carpenter -
One of the greatest modern-day developments is the internet. It has enabled us to access a wealth of information, to tap into any conceivable topic in a matter of seconds and to self-publish whatever we like. But there’s always a downside. Sometimes the ease of publishing information online can lead to legal trouble.
What is defamation?
“Defamation” is a statement, implication or other communication that harms a person’s reputation. It was previously divided into two parts. “Libel” was defamation in written form and “slander” was defamation in spoken form. Now, the single term of “defamation” covers both libel and slander.
If the statement or implication is serious enough, especially if it has caused a person to suffer financial loss, they may take legal action.
It’s one thing for a person to claim to have been defamed, but quite another to prove it. The law requires that a number of criteria be satisfied before a court can find that there has been defamation. There must be:
- A statement or implication that is harmful to a person’s character and reputation.
- A publication of the statement or implication.
- Identification of the person who has been defamed, meaning that people who know (or know of) the person would believe that the statement or implication is about that person.
Why is there a risk of defamation?
Wherever information is published, such as on the internet, there is the risk of defamation. This risk has increased with the growth of social media and mobile apps. For example, the ability to instantaneously review restaurants, cafes and professional services have all increased the risk of an individual being sued for defamation.
This means that everyone has a responsibility to think carefully about what they publish on the internet and to avoid defaming others. A claim for defamation can be financially disastrous - if legal action is taken because of a published comment, a person can face huge legal costs and may also have to pay significant damages to the other party.
Legal action: How does it work?
A person who claims to have been defamed may decide to take legal action and will often engage (or instruct) a solicitor to assist.
As a first step, the defamed person’s solicitor will usually write to the person who published the defamatory imputation, requesting that they do one or more of the following:
- Write an apology to the defamed person.
- Publish an apology in a public forum.
- Immediately retract their statement (usually by publishing a statement in a public forum).
- Pay money to the defamed person to compensate them for the loss suffered by the defamatory publication.
- Agree to pay the full amount of the defamed person’s legal fees.
Going to court
After this, if the situation hasn’t been resolved to the defamed person’s satisfaction, they may instruct their solicitor to file a claim in court. At this point, the defamed person becomes known as the plaintiff because they have commenced the legal action. The publisher of the comments becomes known as the defendant because they will be defending themselves against the legal action.
The claim will set out all the reasons why the plaintiff claims to have been defamed, the opportunities given to the defendant to resolve the issue and the financial amount the plaintiff is seeking. This will include damages for harm to reputation as well as legal costs.
The defendant then has an opportunity to file a defence to the claim within a certain time period. It is highly recommended that the defendant instructs a lawyer before filing the defence in the court because any errors could have very serious consequences for the defendant’s ability to defend the claim.
The court then sets out a timetable for exchange of the documents that are relevant to the case and brings the parties together to try to find a resolution to the dispute without going to trial. If a resolution can’t be achieved, the Court will set down a timetable for the case to go to trial so that it can ultimately make a decision about the claim.
This process is known as “litigation”.
What should I do if I am threatened with an action in defamation?
It can be intimidating to receive a letter from a solicitor threatening to sue, but this doesn’t mean that you have no option but to give in to their demands. A solicitor may overstate their client’s entitlement for damages or identify a publication as defamatory when in fact the publication does not contain any defamatory imputations.
The most important thing to do is to seek legal advice immediately. A person claiming defamation must prove, not merely assert, that the defamatory imputation has resulted in them suffering loss, damage and/or harm. Simply forwarding a letter does not entitle a person to compensation.
Although their solicitor may demand that you act in accordance with their correspondence, you may have a defence to the claim of defamation. If this is the case, you are not required to pay money, retract the statement, or do anything else that the person demands. It can be difficult to know whether you have a defence, which is why it’s essential to consult with an experienced defamation lawyer as soon as possible.
A letter from a person claiming defamation, or their lawyer, may require you to respond within a certain time period, for example seven days. If you don’t respond, they may commence legal action without further notice to you. This will dramatically increase the legal fees associated with the action, which is why it’s essential to see a lawyer as soon as you receive a letter of this type.
Sometimes, a person claiming defamation may decide not to pursue any further legal action once they have received a response from the publisher’s lawyer. This is because the lawyer can point out the weaknesses of the other party’s case and set out the defences. They may also put the person on notice that the publisher may seek to recover their legal costs if the legal action is continued.
What does it mean?
All of this means that instructing a solicitor may be far more economical than agreeing to pay money to a person claiming defamation. But if the matter does proceed to trial, a lawyer can assist you by trying to reduce the amount of money that you may be required to pay. They can also assess the amount of damages likely to be awarded (if any).
If you are concerned about possible defamation action against you, contact us today. We have a team of experienced defamation lawyers who can assist you.
FREE FIRST INTERVIEW
NO WIN NO FEE
LOCAL LAWYERS FOR LOCAL NEEDS
GET THE RIGHT LAWYER FIRST
Having such a short time frame I was very impressed with the outcome made by [my solicitor]. Excellent and timely manner
Very professional mannerism and overall great outcome was delivered by Websters Lawyers.
West Ryde NSW
Helpful, explained fully, patient, excellent service.
Patient and helpful in explaining the process.
Call Websters Lawyers for a most professional and friendly service. All understanding with [my solicitors] and the reception staff. Thank you so much.
Making my will was effortless on my part, with everything explained clearly. Well done to all.
Great service, professional, explains things clearly, definitely recommend Websters Lawyers.
Patient, professional, good communication about procedures and probable outcomes.
Thank you for all your work over the course of the case. You [both] were always very approachable and I appreciated your understanding and professionalism in all areas.
All in all my experience was great. Thank you for your time and expertise.
My matter was dealt with efficiently and was explained in an understandable language. A pleasant experience.
Practical and very helpful. Reasons and explanations given where needed
I stumbled across Websters in the Yellow Pages and I rang, explained my situation and immediately they took my case on. Greatly appreciate their services.
The service from Websters Lawyers was outstanding. [My solicitor] was caring, had patience and was very professional. Wonderful personality.
[My solicitor] made everything so simple to understand. [The receptionist] was wicked too, would recommend them anytime. Level of entire service was outstanding.
I had dealings with Websters over 20 years ago. They were my first choice when I recently needed legal advice. Both legal and office staff were professional, courteous and accessible at all times. Everything was explained up front in a clear and concise manner. I would not hesitate to recommend their services.
It has truly been a pleasure communicating with you throughout the process. I really appreciate your patient and speedy replies to my questions and requests. You were always able to provide an easily understood response and this helped me deal with the process. Your friendly and positive manner encouraged me to seek your advice.
Battery Hill QLD
[My lawyer's] service was prompt and efficient with all questions explained clearly with all our requests carried out within the laws. Overall service was very satisfactory.
[My lawyer] was excellent.
Excellent service. Professional. Clear advice and instructions. Prompt actions. Overall 10/10!
Overall, I was happy with my outcome and my lawyer, would definitely recommend [my lawyer].
[My solicitor] was excellent at helping us through preparing our wills which were particularly challenging as they involved assets in multiple countries. She was professional and knowledgeable and spent time tailoring the wills to our needs.
[My solicitor] was very helpful, respectful and polite. She made sure I understood the process and documentation of our wills.
Professional. Smooth Transaction.
I found the whole experience from Receptionist to Solicitor excellent. They completely put us at our ease.
This was a new experience for us and didn’t have a clue what to do. [Our solicitor] on our first visit put us at ease, explained what will happen, pointed out there was a strong case. [Our solicitor] was genuine in her approach, kept us well informed, explained actions several times with patience and understanding. Overall very happy with the service we received.
[My lawyer] was very reassuring in her approach to my case. I felt that every possibility in terms of evidence to provide and possible outcomes were explained to me, The result of the case was the best possible outcome I could have expected.
With no previous dealing with the criminal justice system, [our solicitor] gave us excellent advice and guided us through a nightmare to achieve a just and correct outcome. [Our lawyer] was both forthright and compassionate in her handling of our case.
[My lawyer] explained all the legal terms in language I could understand – she was very easy to talk to.
Cameron, Munno Para
I felt confident knowing my matter was in good hands. Very professional!
Shravan, Christie Downs
Initial phone call was fantastic and the role of an executor was fully explained.
Penny, Henley Beach
The service I received was efficient and promptly finalised. The solicitor clearly explained the details and I was happy with how easy it was.
Dale, Fairview Park
[My lawyer] was exactly the lawyer I needed in a serious matter. The outcome was as predicted which was a fantastic result. I received prompt professional and personal service at all times. Capable and supportive in a very stressful period.
Jason, Munno Para West
I had any of my concerns answered to my satisfaction and understanding.
Valda, Ingle Farm
[My lawyer] is an excellent professional lawyer who assisted in achieving a great positive outcome/result. I sincerely thank you and your great staff for your assistance and guidance throughout my claim. Would highly recommend [my lawyer], staff and Websters Lawyers. Kept fully informed and guided, professionally throughout the matter.
Our work was dealt with very efficiently and speedily. Our lawyer was very professional, at the same time as being approachable. Communication was great.
My experience with Websters Lawyers was far beyond what I expected. From the moment I spoke to [my lawyer] she made me feel very comfortable and eased my stress. In my case I had a court appearance the day before we were scheduled to fly to Spain, Considering my first appointment with her was only 2 weeks before the court hearing, she was able to obtain the police statement and thoroughly work on my case within that limited time frame. She was very knowledgeable, understanding and confident which greatly relieved so much pressure from me and my family. At court, she explained everything thoroughly and advised me of all the possible outcomes. Price, service and result, very highly recommended. Thank you Websters Lawyers.
Rafael, Davoren Park
I have high expectations and they were met. Websters service was swift, courteous, professional and met the agreed budget. I will recommend Websters to my family, friends and colleagues. Thank you.
I would recommend Websters Lawyers, especially for [my lawyer's] dedication and exemplary attitude and advice. She is the epitome of a good lawyer. The service was impeccable.
Pamela, West Lakes
[My lawyer] was very professional and I was made comfortable to understand.
I was very pleased with the end result and how well [my lawyer] conducted herself.
Jesse, Morphett Vale
[My lawyer] has been very prompt , reliable and provided a high level of communication.
My experience at Websters was very positive. The stress was taken from me and I could not be happier with the outcome. [My lawyer] at Websters was professional, personable, available and caring. Thank you for making the experience stress free.
Magda, Holden Hill
Found my lawyer upfront and reliable – I would highly recommend Websters Lawyers.
Lee, Evanston Park
Top bunch of solicitors and admin staff. Very friendly and to the point service.
Bradley, Hallett Cove
Websters Lawyers were very professional in their service, I would be happy to recommend them.
Carole, Tea Tree Gully
We would not hesitate in recommending Websters for any legal matter. They are professional and courteous at all times and call back when they say they will.
David and Dianne, Lockleys