Before You Sue For Defamation
More than ever before in human history, negative messages are capable of viral dissemination. Online platforms and various forms of social media spread information, good and bad, with various levels of accuracy, faster than ever before. For both businesses and individuals, negative information can deal a devastating blow to reputation. People and businesses who feel the sting of a negative review or other disparagement may experience a visceral impulse to immediately lash out with litigation to put a perpetrator in their place. But some restraint is necessary to pursue your rights most effectively.
In 2013, the Washington State Legislature passed the Uniform Correction or Clarification of Defamation Act, the stated intent of which is to “provide strong incentives for individuals to promptly correct or clarify an alleged false statement as an alternative to costly litigation.” Parties seeking damages arising out of harm caused by the false content of a publication must, under this law, make a timely and adequate request for correction or clarification from the defendant. The request is adequate if it is: (1) made in writing and reasonably identifies the person making the request; (2) specifies with particularity the statement alleged to be false and defamatory or otherwise actionable and, to the extent known, the time and place of publication; (3) alleges the defamatory meaning of the statement; (4) specifies the circumstances giving rise to any defamatory meaning of the statement which arises from other than the express language of the publication; and (5) states that the alleged defamatory meaning of the statement is false. Serving a summons and complaint can function as notice under the statute as long as the complaint contains the aforementioned required information.
Once the alleged wrongdoer receives the request for correction or clarification, they have 30 days to make the correction or clarification. To be sufficient, such correction or clarification must: (1) be published with a prominence and in a manner and medium reasonably likely to reach substantially the same audience as the publication complained of; (2) refer to the statement being corrected or clarified; (3) be provided to the person who requested the correction or clarification, prior to publication. There are additional requirements which apply in specific situations. The legal effect of an adequate and timely correction or clarification is that the plaintiff will be barred from recovering “damages for injury to reputation or presumed damages.” However, the plaintiff may still recover other damages permitted by law. Such damages might include, for example, damages for tortious interference with contractual relations. The act does not require that the plaintiff give the defendant an opportunity to correct or clarify as a prerequisite to seeking injunctive relief (such as an order requiring the defendant to take down a negative).
Bear in mind that truth is always a defense to defamation. But it is wise to always make sure that statements you make are not likely to be misconstrued to falsely imply something negative.
Whether you believe you have been harmed by someone who published a false statement about you or your business, or whether you have been threatened with a lawsuit alleging defamation, the lawyers at Beresford Booth would be happy to assist you and counsel you on how best to seek appropriate remedies or mitigate your exposure to liability.