Basic Training: Ex-Partners Make the Biggest Bigmouths

By Nina Kaufman, Esq.

Q: I can’t believe it–my former business partner has been smearing me around town! I was recently partnering with someone on a real estate deal. She ultimately pulled out of it, which created a lot of problems for me.

Although I was really upset at the time, I took the high road, put my nose to the grindstone and plowed ahead with the deal to make it happen. Because we’re in same community, I’ve gotten wind that this ex-partner is starting to badmouth me around town. After having been reasonably gracious about the lousy way she left our deal, I’m really angry to find out that she’s taking the low road. Can I sue her for being a malicious bigmouth?

A: The legal area of defamation, which includes libel (for written statements) and slander (for oral statements),  can be a tricky area.  In order to succeed in a libel or slander case, you usually have to prove that a spoken or written statement was false and was made to a third party.  Depending on whether the statement pertains to business-related activities, you may also have to prove that you’ve suffered actual damage from the statements being made.  Sometimes, a strongly worded attorney’s letter (often called a “cease and desist” letter) can put a stop to the statements if they’re still being made.  However, you may need to back that up with actual litigation if the letter isn’t enough.

As defamation law is a specialized area, you will want to speak to a lawyer who really focuses on this area.  You can find defamation attorneys from your local bar association–one good way to look is to see if the bar association has any committees on defamation, First Amendment or tort issues–those practitioners will likely know this area better and can give you more specific guidance about your situation.

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