The majority of us will all have been in situations where we have experienced bad customer service. We may have then vented some of our frustration about the service to family and friends. We may even have advised others against using that particular company. But what if that company is your company? At what point could you bring a claim against someone for defamation for such comments on the basis that your corporate brand, goodwill and reputation have been damaged?
The crucial factor that has to be present in order to bring a claim for defamation is that someone has said or published a statement that is factually incorrect and which, in the eyes of the general public, undermines the reputation of the company. A defamatory statement which is verbal would entitle a company to bring a claim for slander. A defamatory statement in any form of publication could result in a claim for libel.
We live in a society which recognises freedom of speech. It is therefore almost impossible to prevent someone from making a defamatory statement. The exception is if you have prior knowledge of someone's intention to make a defamatory statement. In that situation you may be able to seek an injunction to prevent publication of the statement. The cost of obtaining an injunction can, however, be significant. Careful consideration should therefore be given, before commencing injunctive proceedings, as to exactly what, if any, damage would be caused by the defamatory statement.
If you do not become aware of a defamatory statement until it is too late i.e. the statement has already been said or published, compensation can be sought from the person who made the statement, for the damage they have caused to the defamed party's reputation. This can be extremely difficult to quantify and the sum awarded will be dependent on the facts of each individual case.
In reality, obtaining compensation for defamation may not be an option if the person who made the defamatory statement does not have the financial capacity to meet any award of damages. As an alternative, or as an additional remedy if financial compensation is viable, a company that has had a defamatory statement made about it, may want a public apology from the person who made the statement. Careful consideration should be given, however, to the appropriate audience for the apology. For example, if the defamatory statement was posted on an internet blog with a very niche audience, the appropriate forum for the apology is likely to be on the same blog. If the apology is made to a wider audience, more people will become aware of the defamatory statement and whilst an apology may have been given, there is a risk that some people may take the view that there is no smoke without fire.
If you are concerned that your business may have been defamed, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. At Lupton Fawcett we can provide assistance with the legal steps that may be appropriate. We also work closely with a public relations company and can provide advice as to whether, depending on the circumstances of each individual matter, a positive advertising campaign would in fact be more appropriate and cost effective than commencing legal proceedings for defamation.
Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.
For further information or for assistance, please contact Jonathan Warner-Reed.
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At last it is all at an end, and we are happy with the outcome. We would like to thank you and the team for giving control back to our lives, god knows where we would be, also for your professionalism and counselling to guide us through this horrendous ordeal we do thank you, it was worth every penny.David Haywood, Former Minority Shareholder in Haywood and Padgett Limited