More Judges Catching Up to the Times
Trials are decided by humans with all their human experiences. Whether a judge or jury is deciding a case, your relative success will depend on the nature of those experiences, and your ability to persuade the trier of fact to set them aside when appropriate. Internet defamation cases necessarily require some understanding of the Internet by the trier of fact, or at least the willingness to absorb new concepts. Thankfully it has not happened to me in any of the cases I have handled, but I still hear horror stories about judges who make comments like, “no one really believes anything they read on this . . . In-ter-net,” or “what is this google you keep talking about?”
At least a Small Claims Judge in Canada appears to understand a thing or two about Internet defamation. In the case, the defendant took a disliking to a local dog kennel for whatever reason. She visited some animal discussion boards, and posted comments about the kennel, referring to it as a “puppy mill.” The kennel took exception to this characterization, and sued for defamation in Small Claims Court. (In one of my earliest postings, I sing the praises of suing for defamation in Small Claims Court. Take note how effective that can be.)
The court found in favor of the Plaintiff dog kennel, and awarded $14,000 in damages. The court correctly determined that calling a dog kennel a “puppy mill” is a bad thing. But what caught my eye was the simple logic of the judge, the sort of logic that sometimes eludes other judges. First he was upset that these postings were made on the Internet, recognizing that “the use of the Internet worsens the defamation.” That may seem extremely self-evident to most of us, but remember those aforesaid judges that still view that Internet as a fad among kids that will soon pass. The judge also stated that the defamation was “particularly malicious” because the purpose of the defendant was to put out of business a kennel that supported a family of 11.
Wow. A judge that recognizes that Internet defamation can be more egregious than verbal defamation, and who views the conduct from a real world perspective of how it impacts the people behind the business. Thank you Canada.