Sunday, September 21, 2008

I'll Sue You for saying that About me On-line!

It’s been a week since the great adventure began. And during that week nothing much has happened at all. I feel sort of foolish spending so much time on preparation.

I posted some internet ads and almost immediately got some responses, but they were not potential clients, they were job applicants. Within 3 hours I had two hopeful employees and 3 offers for free advertising from unsolicited sources. No potential clients at all.


I see this all the time on bulleted boards and e-mail exchanges between strangers. Its always in all CAPs and it always uses the wrong terminology. I have yet to find out who these lucky attorneys are that live comfortably on retainers for random insulted chat room attendees, but I know it ain’t me or anyone I know.

These “lawyers” often tell their clients that the written words on a forum are slander and that a bad review or someone’s opinion are fantastic grounds for a HUGE lawsuit. I am not saying these lawsuits do not happen or that some remarks are not actionable, but if they happened at the rates we read about I would be rich. All my friends would be rich. Those two job applicants I heard from on day 1 would be employed and probably studying for the LSAT right now so they too could be milking the internet cash cow of rampant slander suits.

These threats really scare some people. They wonder of they too need to hire an attorney and agonize over loosing the farm for posting X shipped my horse to the wrong place or Y couldn’t jump their way out of a wet paper bag.

How can you judge when you really have a lawsuit to worry about? Wait for the letter from a real attorney on the firm letterhead. Google the allegations made against you. Do they even meet any standards for legally valid claims against you? Is the terminology correct? Does this lawyer or Law firm even exist? Googling is amazing. It really can help you answer these questions.

If you do your research and someone actually has a real attorney and valid claims against you, what do you do next? Read the demand letter. What are they demanding? Do they want you to take down your post or change your story? Is the tone nice or nasty? Is there a deadline and some mention of exactly how this harmed their client? Is that harm in any way likely or even related to what you said? If it is, then seriously consider recanting unless you are 100% positive you are telling the objective truth. If not, then wait for the next move—The complaint.

If someone wants to sue you they have to file a complaint in some court and make some claims. If you get 3 demand letters in a row its more likely than not the client is trying to save the tens of thousands of dollars required to actually litigate by scaring you silly. If they really want to sue you they have to pay a filing fee and get serious about opening up their wallets and paying someone like me. Take a complaint seriously and at that point lawyer up yourself if its not in small claims court. You will have deadlines and rules to follow, so don’t wait until the day before it expires to call around and find a lawyer.

DO not call up the lawyer who sent you the letter and tell them your story so you can shame them into seeing how virtuous and right you are. They do not care. That is the point of a lawsuit—to represent their own client and make their side of the story the truth. That lawyer has a duty to fight for his side and doesn’t give one hoot what you have to say expect to gain valuable knowledge from your unrepresented self gaining him free discovery and a reason to hate you too. Don’t make it personal. The lawyer knows the facts will become apparent during the legal process and will not drop the case because you say it ain’t so. If you are getting sued then your version of the facts and your defenses belong in your answer—not on a short tempered cell phone call to the legal representive of the enemy. The answer is sent to the court and the lawsuit is on.

Or you could just take whatever you said back when you get the demand letter. Or when you get the complaint. Or work things out in a non-judicial manner. Is it really worth $40K to be able to say that A. Horsedealer ripped you off? Of course I think it is, I am the one getting your $40K! But seriously, now that you have it out of your system and you have apologized does it really change the fact that google caches everything ever posted on-line forever and most of your audience can read between the lines? If you are telling the truth you have an absolute defense, but its still gonna cost you and arm and a leg.

If you were not telling the truth and did post defamatory lies or intentionally caused financial or emotional harm to an innocent identifiable party, then you deserve to get sued and some lawyer will still take your case anyway. We have to. Its our job. The party in the wrong cannot be sued if no lawyer will step up to defend the other side. You know this stuff. You watch TV and see the criminal defense lawyers explaining this all the time.

I personally admire those among you willing to spend large amounts of cash to defend the truth and protect others for becoming a victim of a shady dealer. I will probably even give you a discount because I know how hard it all is both emotionally and financially to stand up for truth and honestly and justice, but its still gong to cost you and arm and a leg. And half your friends.

The key things to remember are 1) Is there an identifiable party or did you say ARABHORSEYLVER is a big fat meanie and not to be trusted. 2) Were your comments the truth or your opinion based on the truth? 3) Is the party threatening to sue actually doing anything about it like filing a complaint or hiring a lawyer? 4) Can you realistically afford to defend your honor? 5) Are you willing to be shunned by half your social circle for defending your rights? 6) Are you willing to spend the next several years of your life waiting to see if your version of the story is the winning one or if you will be broke and disillusioned on top of it? And lastly 7) Sometimes even the good side loses.

You can be 100% in the right and still lose because its No Law Day in that court and you just had bad luck. Law is not a science, its an art. Just like you can have a bad trip in the hunter ring on a very good horse you can have one off day in court and lose anyway. If you can’t afford to lose then do not bother to fight. It can happen and it can happen to you. In this day and age when random comments posted on-line can become international events overnight, its always wise to understand names can hurt just as much as sticks and stones. Even if you were not good side.

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