If you or your business is being attacked by libelous and false statements published on the internet, filing a lawsuit over the defamatory posting can potentially lead to awards of monetary damages and having the content removed from the Internet. However, a recent libel lawsuit in Florida illustrates how it’s a necessity to consider all options before filing suit to remove defamation from an internet blog site.
A Florida news station, WINK News (a link to the article has been removed from the new stations website), is reporting that a lawsuit was recently filed by a home owner’s association in Naples called Fiddler’s Creek against one of its own residents. According to court documents, the association is upset about various remarks on a blog which it believes have damaged the reputation of the community, adversely affected home values, and impeded the ability of the association to collect assessments.
Although it appears that several members of the community are upset that their HOA fees are being used to sue a fellow neighbor, other residents believe it is a necessary action to protect the reputation and image of the community. The lawsuit is seeking monetary damages and removal of the allegedly defamatory statements.
The major issue in this case to me is not so much the First Amendment question of whether the resident’s comments on the blog (which is now removed but used to be located at fiddlerscreekhomeowners.blogspot.com) about how he thinks his HOA is misspending funds and breaking laws may be libelous. Accusing an organization of illegal activities without much proof to support your allegations can have serious consequences. Even if you wind up being right or the speech is found to be protected, the very act can open you up to liability and a lawsuit.
The real “issue” in this case to me, and why it is likely that the lawsuit is garnering media attention, is that the HOA is essentially using this resident’s own money (the HOA fees) to fund the lawsuit. Talk about irony and “adding insult to injury.”
The takeaway from this situation is that while a lawsuit can be an effective tool to remove defamatory statements from the Internet and recover monetary damages, it is important to consider how the action will be perceived by the third parties and the public. Negative media attention for a libel lawsuit can be worse than the actual defamatory statements underlying the action.
In this situation, confronting the resident, attempting to address his questions and concerns, responding to the postings, and sending out a cease and desist letter may have ultimately led to a better result.
If you are thinking about a lawsuit to remove defamatory statements from the Internet, speak with an attorney to make sure you’ve considered all of your other options before filing suit. The Internet defamation law attorneys at Meyers Roman Friedberg & Lewis, LPA have helped businesses and individuals remove defamatory statements on blogs and websites with and without litigation. Contact Attorney Aaron Minc at (216) 373-7706 or Aminc@meyersroman.com to discuss your options today.