Everyone deserves the right to have their reputations protected from false statements. This right is of great importance and value in the horse industry, where one’s reputation is often his or her greatest asset. I often receive calls from people in the horse industry wanting to know if they can bring a lawsuit against someone else for allegedly making a false statement about them. In most cases, the answer is usually no.
Gossip is unfortunately rampant in the horse industry. If you have a good professional reputation, you will hopefully be able to withstand any false statements made about you. Gossip generally and fortunately fades away with time because gossipers move on to talk about new issues or perceived problems. Even if you decide to bring a lawsuit against someone for making a false statement about you, you still have to prove that you suffered damages as a result of that false statement. This is often difficult to do. As a result, you risk spending more money in legal fees and other related costs for bringing a lawsuit than what you may actually recover. Even if you are successful, consider whether you will be able to collect your judgment award from the gossiper.
Defamation is defined as the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of a person or business. That false statement must also be made to someone other than the person defamed. Defamation is the general term used internationally. If you bring a lawsuit in defamation, you will be suing in either the tort of “libel” or “slander”. Libel and slander both require publication. The primary distinction between libel and slander is solely in the form in which the defamatory statement is published. Slander is making a defamatory statement orally or in a more transitory form whereas libel is a permanent or written form of a defamatory statement.
In order to succeed in an action for defamation, the person defamed must prove the following three criteria:
- The statement is defamatory. This means that it lowers the person’s reputation in the eyes of other people. The test is an objective one. Therefore, it is not relevant if the person defamed thinks that the words are damaging. The relevant question is what a reasonable person would think about the statement.
- It must be proved that the statement referred to the person defamed. Therefore, people who heard or saw the statement must realize that it is the person defamed whose reputation is being tarnished.
- It must be proved that the statement was communicated to or published for someone other than the person actually defamed.
If these three elements are proved, the action will most likely succeed unless there is a defense. Truth, for example, is an absolute defense. If it can be shown that the defamatory statement was substantially true, the defendant will not be held liable even if the defendant published the statement to harm the person defamed.
Even if you can prove the three elements above, you must still show that the statements harmed you in some concrete way. You must consider how the statements affected you and determine whether you can prove that your life has changed for the worse because people now view you differently. For example, if you’ve lost work or business, you can consider the statement to be injurious, but you must be able to quantify how much revenue you lost.
Whenever possible, if you know who is gossiping about you, try confronting that person and asking him or her to stop. If that doesn’t work, asking a lawyer to write a cease and desist letter may be enough to make the person think twice about gossiping about you in the future, without the need to take further legal action.
The horse industry often contains emotionally charged individuals. While this can often be a good thing, it can also create problems. When a relationship in the horse industry dissolves, disappointment, insult and pain can often cause the parties involved to make statements regarding others, regardless of the truth; sometimes despite the truth. Before such statements are made, think carefully. Derogatory and untrue statements can often result in liability for defamation.
Carrie Russom Quraishi has been active in the equine industry for many years. She is a member of AQHA, NSBA, and NRHA and is an AQHA World Champion and multiple AQHA national high point champion. Based in Frisco, Texas, the Quraishi Law Firm strives to bring strategic solutions to the unique needs of the equine community. Carrie can be reached at (972) 731-4337 or via email at email@example.com
This article does not constitute legal advice. When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.