Legal Solutions, Inc. is a full-service law firm dedicated
to the horse industry. Based in San Jose, California,
ELS serves clients in California and New York. ELS' founder,
Rachel Kosmal McCart, is an attorney and lifelong horsewoman
who currentlycompetes in hunter/jumper events.
Issue: You Cant Say That!
What Horse People Need to Know about Libel,
Slander and Defamation
and reprinted, courtesy of:
California attorney, Rachel Kosmal McCart - The Legal EquineTM
- Equine Legal
Solutions, Inc. ("ELS")
least once a week, Equine
Legal Solutions, Inc. receives a call or e-mail from someone
wanting to know whether they have a good case against someone
else for slander. In almost all cases, the answer is NO! Our
U.S. Constitution and its amendments guarantee broad freedom
of speech and freedom of the press, and the exceptions to those
important rights are generally very narrow.
What are Slander, Libel and Defamation?
Defamation of character includes the civil offenses of libel
and slander. Note that these defamation offenses permit the
injured party to sue for damages, but they are not crimes. Someone
has slandered you if they have made oral statements that injure
your reputation and/or business, and they either knew that those
statements were not true OR they were reckless about whether
the statements were true. For example, if you have a perfectly
sound horse for sale, and a rival trainer down the road tells
a prospective buyer, That horse has navicular, and
the prospective buyer tells you that they will pass on the horse
because of what the rival trainer said, the rival trainer has
committed slander. Libel has the same elements as slander, only
the statements are made in print (or on the Internet) instead
of orally. If the rival trainer had sent that comment in an
e-mail instead, it would have been libel instead of slander.
Why Arent There More Lawsuits
The horse industry is highly dependent upon personal reputation,
and catty gossip is rampant. Why arent there more lawsuits
for defamation? One key reason is that truth is a nearly absolute
defense if the statement is true, you cant sue.
In the example above, if your horse actually had navicular,
you wouldnt be able to successfully sue the rival trainer
for slander. Another reason is that opinions are protected free
speech. If the trainer had said, I think that horse might
have navicular, that statement would be the trainers
opinion and therefore not considered slander.
You Have to Be Able to Show Damages
Hurt feelings arent enough you have to be able
to prove economic harm. If one of your boarders spreads a rumor
that your stall cleaners are beating the horses, and several
of your boarders leave as a result, you can show economic harm
if those stalls stay empty (but not if you have other boarders
on a waiting list to take their place) AND you can prove that
the boarders left because of the rumor.
At What Price Truth?
Even if your situation meets all of the legal elements of libel
or slander, does it make sense to bring suit? Your professional
reputation should be strong enough to withstand ordinary gossip,
and defending yourself against rumors can make you look defensive
and give the rumors more credence than they deserve. Consider
that most nasty rumors eventually die out on their own as the
gossips move on to new topics, but rumors will live on indefinitely
if they are the center of a court battle. Consider also the
price of bringing suit vs. the measurable amount of economic
harm you have suffered are the legal fees and court costs
worth the price (not to mention the emotional energy)? Finally,
consider that unlike supermarket tabloids, most barn gossips
are not rich even if you get a judgment against them,
it may be very difficult to collect.
A Cost-Effective Solution
Suppose you have a situation like the navicular rumor above
where you are being economically harmed, and you know the source
of the rumor. Many of ELS clients have found self-help
to be extremely effective. You can crisply and professionally
approach the source of the rumor, explain that it has come to
your attention that they are spreading the rumor, inform them
that the rumor is not true, and let them know that if they do
not refrain from spreading the rumor further, you will consider
legal action. In many cases, you may be too furious to approach
the source of the rumor yourself without risking losing your
temper, and in those instances, you may find it helpful to have
your attorney send the rumormonger a cease-and-desist letter.
Equine Legal Solutions, Inc. is located in San Jose, California
and serves clients in California and New York.
To contact us, call (408) 251-3876 or visit
2004, Equine Legal Solutions, Inc. The Legal Equine is a trademark
of Equine Legal Solutions, Inc.