Can a person be sued for defamation, if they provide other writers’ views of a company following a request to forward by a local authority/statutory agency?
Specifically, my daughter purchased a young puppy, advertised on the internet. My daughter and I visited the dog breeder’s premises and was shown another dog, identified by the breeder as the puppy’s mother. My daughter and I were told by the dog breeder that the puppy was nine weeks old, but the chip installed in the animal showed that it was 11 weeks old. My daughter did not know this at the time, it was only after we left with the dog and looked at the paperwork in detail that she found that the dates of stated birth and chip date of birth mismatched. During the first three days of ownership the dog was with her at her house, since that time it has been in hospital on three separate occassions, in total she has had the dog at her house for four days.
My daughter contacted the dog breeder to inform him of the puppy and illness, she was told that the dog was fit and healthy prior to leaving him (the dog breeder’s premises) and as such the insurance set up by the breeder should cover any veterinary fees. She contacted her vet, who saw the pup at the vet clinic, the pup was hospitalised.
I am looking for a solicitor in the first instance to help my daughter with some legal advice.
I understand she may be able to get a few moments free with you for advice on a solicitors letter she has received.
He is being tested for Parvo virus and Giardia, this is because the puppy has been poorly since the day she bought him home, his stomach was also full of what the vet called gravel after an x-ray. The puppy has been in the hospital longer than in my daughter’s care.
After speaking with the vet about the puppies care, my daughter contacted the breeder to let him know, but the breeder has since become nasty and sarcastic.
My daughter told the breeder the dog is being tested for Giardia and Parvo but the breeder didn?t wish to know, the vet told my daughter she had the right to contact trading standards and any other authority regarding being sold a sick puppy, and also that they do not feel the puppy is the stated breed at all but a mixed breed of dog. Additionally, the vet has stated that the dog must have been ill prior to the sale, as the dog was in a serious state of ill health when examined. So my daughter contacted the local council, trading standards and the RSPCA.
When my daughter contacted the council to say her pup is being investigated for Giardia and Parvo she also told them she had found other complaints on the internet regarding this breeder selling sick pups, she was asked to forward all the information she had found on to them to the council.
My daughter initially received a letter from the dog breeder’s solicitor inferring that the dog was healthy, that she was lying, to stop harassing/texting the breeder and a payment of ?200 to the dog breeder and the return of the dog, submit a replacement dog to my daughter.
My daughter contacted the solicitor to inform him of the fact that the dog is still under care by the vet and has not been cleared/discharged. Also, she has been open and honest regarding the full process with the solicitor, detailing a full descriptive timeline of events, that included her contacting the RSPCA, Trading Standards and the dog breder’s local authority as he is a licensed breeder. The website on which the dog was advertised states that if a person is sold a sick puppy, it must be reported to the relevant authorities to combat puppy farming/bad breeding practices/poor animal welfare.
My daughter has kept the breeder up to date with everything she is doing as he had asked her to, but now she has received a second solicitors letter saying she is being sued for defamation of character, based on the information posted by others available publicly on the internet, that she was requested to forward by the local authority and trading standards. Additionally, the letter also states if she pays ?500, the matter will be dropped by the dog breeder and solicitor.
She needs some advise on what she is meant to do now.
Can you help?
We are not sure the puppy will survive so my daughter is very upset at this time.
Alasdair Taylor's Answer
In principle, a person may be liable in the law of defamation for passing on defamatory statements made by others.
When analysing a statement to establish whether it may result in liability, you first need to establish the defamatory meaning or imputation (i.e. the meaning carried by the statement that is likely to have a material negative effect on the reputation of the complainant).
Assuming you can establish a defamatory imputation, and assuming that the statement was published to at least one third party, the next thing to do is to consider whether the defences of justification and/or fair comment may be available. See:
Remember that the defences need to be proven, not just asserted. What evidence could you bring to provide the truth of statements of fact and the fairness of statements of opinion?
Your daughter may also be in a position to argue that the defence of common law qualified privilege applies. This defence protects certain defamatory disclosures where there is a social duty to make the disclosure. (After a quick search I can’t find a good article on this subject online, which is strange, given how often it comes up.)
One practical point to be aware of is that libel proceedings are expensive, and few people would sue over a claim worth only GBP 500.
Note: the law on libel will be changing significantly before the end of this year, when the Defamation Act 2013 comes into force. However, that will not affect claims relating to publications that pre-date the Act.
If you would like the details of a solicitor who could help with this, please contact me via our website contact form.