Right on the heels of our post yesterday on defamation comes a case publicly reported just today in which neighbors in a small building in Brooklyn, New York ended up in court after years of screaming, menacing and suing. For the winner, though, there was no financial award to go with the judge’s finding that she had indeed been slandered.
In Heredia v. Taylor, Judge Genine Edwards of the Brooklyn Civil Court ruled that the depression, sleepless nights and low self-esteem plaintiff claimed were caused by her former neighbor’s false statements to the police that she was a whore, a child abuser and a drug user did not entitle her to money damages.
The judge noted that the plaintiff had simply failed in her burden of proof to show
- that the slander caused her any actual, financial damages or
- that plaintiff’s reputation was damaged in any manner or
- that the defendant knew that the statements were false or that she recklessly disregarded the falsity of the statements
As I’ve said before, defamation cases are extremely difficult to win and then even with proof that there’s been slander or libel, the plaintiff has a heavy burden to show she has been financially damaged (as opposed to one’s feelings being hurt).
The law of defamation is complex and we thank our friends at Torts Prof Blog for tipping us off today to a new scholarly article by University of Tennessee College of Law Professor Joseph King that adds significantly to the body of defamation work. The article focuses on defamation claims based on parody and explains how the law distinguishes actionable from non-actionable statements. It’s available for a fee at the Utah Law Review.
Here are the lessons from all of this, especially for those who think they’ve been defamed:
- tread carefully,
- think it all through,
- consider how and if your reputation may suffer even more if you sue, and
- consider how difficult it is to win any kind of real money damages in defamation lawsuits. Except in the most extreme defamation cases, it’s likely not worth it to sue the bum.