Spot the two puns in the title for bonus points.
People have been pointing fingers at each other, spreading gossip and lies, and generally ruining lives for all of recorded history. In America, however, when you do that — when you spread lies knowing there is zero proof to back your claims — you run the risk of getting your ass dragged into court.
I am the daughter of a lawyer. A civil litigator. I am fairly well-versed in what happens to a person if and when that person posts false information regarding another individual on the Internet.
Bad stuff. Bad stuff happens to that person. That person gets sued.
See, one can’t just post any-old damaging, nasty rumor to the Internet and expect to get away with it. People certainly try all the time — anonymously defaming people on forums. We call those people Internet bullies and trolls. We call those people stupid people.
But it’s not often someone is stupid enough to post something false alongside his or her true name and photograph.
That’s why we usually trust the news. Because reporters and the publications they work for can and will be sued if they publish “facts” they don’t have the evidence to support.
According to California Civil Code, paragraphs 44, 45a and 46:
The elements of a defamation claim are:
- publication of a statement purported to be fact that
- is false,
- has a natural tendency to injure or which causes “special damage,” and
- the defendant’s fault in publishing the statement amounts to at least negligence.
You may be wondering: What happens, then, when you defame someone? When you make shit up and get caught and get sued?
Generally, you pay compensatory damages up the whazoo — monetary sanctions to mitigate the damage you’ve caused to the lied-about person’s reputation, career, relationships with others, etc. etc.
But what happens when you post something true and it just so happens to be a not-nice thing that may very well damage a person’s reputation, career, and relationships with others?
Can you be punished then?
The answer is: nope, not really. You see —
"Truth" is an absolute defense against defamation. Consequently, the plaintiff [the defamed individual] has to provide convincing evidence of a defamatory statement’s falsity in order to prove defamation.
If you are being lied about, and you decide to sue someone to punish them for lying about you, you have to be able to provide evidence that proves that the other person was lying about you in the first place.
Andrew Paul Bean from Perrysburg, Ohio, has NO evidence to contradict my claim that he raped me. It is his word against a two-year-document trail and two recorded confessions that unquestionably, inarguably support my account of his rape of me.
The substantial truth defense is particularly powerful because a judge will often grant summary judgment in favor of a defendant [the person who authored the claim] (thus disposing of the case before it goes to trial) if the defendant can show that the statement the plaintiff [the person who was allegedly damaged by the claim] is complaining about is substantially true, making the defense a quick and relatively easy way to get out of a long (and potentially expensive) defamation case.
My lawyers are eager for Andy Bean to sue me for defamation. They anticipate the documentation I have would result in a swift summary judgment verdict, establishing quickly and definitively that what I say is true. That Andy Bean is a rapist.
But odds are high Andy Bean will not sue me. If he were asked, he would likely say something like, “I cared about her once. I’m not going to do something like that. She can do whatever she wants to hurt me, but I won’t stoop to that level.”
Or maybe he’d say he doesn’t have the money for it. Or the time. Whatever. For one reason or another, I am willing to bet that there will be no defamation suit — despite the likelihood Andy Bean would do anything to get this blog taken down and get a retraction issued so he does not have to change his name and move to Michigan and sell used cars till the day he dies.
No, there will be no defamation suit because I would not put my ass on the line — my name, my photo alongside the story for the world to see — if what I wrote weren’t one-hundred-percent true.
I felt compelled to address this, because I understand that there are people who did not grow up listening to legal arguments evolve at the dinner table. People who did not sit down with their parents once a week to watch Law & Order and The Practice and Boston Legal. People who did not assist with researching and drafting complaints and filing subpoenas and serving process all through high school. You know, all the fun stuff that goes with being a lawyer’s kid.
There are people who do not understand that I would have to be the stupidest bitch on the planet to claim I was raped by Andy Bean if it wasn’t one-hundred-percent true and one-hundred-percent provable that I was, indeed, raped by Andy Bean.