Gossip and Slander : Part 3

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Q: I own a floral business and became friends with my clergyman.  He loaned money to me.  When I failed to repay the loan, our relationship deteriorated.  Then my clergyman wrote a lengthy letter to a higher-up in his organization, detailing the problems he had encountered with me.

He wrote that I had failed to repay the loan, failed to get along with people, needed to be surrounded by women and was plagued by personal problems such as anger and overweight.  In the letter, my clergyman suggested that I be dropped from a program because of my supposed issues.

A: In general, libel or slander is not actionable unless you suffer ‘special damages’ – the loss of something having economic or pecuniary value.  If you have not suffered special damages, then you cannot sue for defamation – subject to four exceptions, for statements (1) charging you with a serious crime, (2) that tend to injure you in your trade, business or profession, (3) that you have a ‘loathsome disease’ or (4) imputing lack of chastity to a woman.

Assuming that you have a lawsuit, the question arises of whether to sue your clergyman’s organization.  Its pockets may well be deeper.  The law requires that your clergyman have been the organization’s employee and that he have acted ‘within the scope of his employment’.  In that case, the organization might have vicarious liability, based upon the doctrine of respondeat superior.  These are two Latin words which mean “let the master answer”.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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