When a relationship ends, it’s not uncommon for there to be bad feelings between the couple separating or getting a divorce. However bad those feelings may be, it’s important to remember that there can be consequences for airing any grievances publicly. A recent decision emphasizes this in a case that involved expressing online communication.
The relationship and its fallout
The decision did not go into too many details surrounding the relationship. The plaintiff was a mining executive who was the CEO of a mining company and since 2013 had worked as a consultant in the industry. He and the defendant began dating in 2015 and the relationship continued in an on and off fashion for about one year. Following their breakup the defendant began making online posts accusing the plaintiff of knowingly spreading sexually transmitted diseases, being an alcoholic, being a fraud at work, and cheating on her. The posts, which were outlined extensively in the decision, carried on for one year.
We won’t provide an extensive list of the posts here, but a good example is one which stated the defendant “is sleeping with women never disclosed his 16 years of herpes. Infected many harmless women. Do not sleep with him without knowing. He lies.”
A flimsy defense
The defendant initially claimed that it was not her who made the posts, but that people in her house could have accessed her wi-fi and posted the statements. However, an expert witness was able to tie the posts to her IP address. There were also messages presented to the court where the defendant admitted to posting statements about the plaintiff. The defendant failed to offer any evidence of who could have posted the statements online.
Were the statements defamatory?
After establishing that the defendant was responsible for making the statements, the court then turned to the question of whether they were defamatory.
The court explained that a defamatory statement is one that has the tendency to injure the reputation of the person to whom it refers. The court quickly concluded that the statements met the standard of defamatory in their literal meaning, as well as in an inferential meaning. The court described an inferential meaning as one in which “the ordinary person, without special knowledge, will infer from the words complained of and this meaning must be determined objectively.”
The court described the actions of the defendant as “relentless” and “extensive” stating the campaign was motivated to malice and was the result of the plaintiff breaking up with the defendant. The court found the appropriate award of general damages to be $175,000, adding on $25,000 in aggravated damages. The defendant was also on the hook for repaying US $29,870 the plaintiff spent on engaging reputation consultants in having the posts removed.
The team at Jason P. Howie recognizes that relationships and the law have been changed by social media and digital communication. We know about the impact this has on divorce. To speak with an experienced Windsor family law lawyer about social media and how it related so divorce or separation, call 519.973.1500 or contact us online. We serve clients in Windsor, Essex County and throughout the region.