Slander on Facebook

The new age of social media has made it possible to communicate with a broader audience than ever before. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and many others, it is now possible for us to gather all of our professional and personal acquaintances into one place and communicate with them simultaneously.

But, as anyone who has ever spent time on a social media platform knows, for all its benefits, social media has also created a monster. Fake news and slander can spread very quickly, and when someone speaks out of turn or speaks ill of someone else, those statements can be spread far and wide. Here are three things to consider in weighing whether you have a claim for defamation based on someone’s comments on the internet. 

1. Is the Post Clearly About You? 

One of the first elements you’ll need to prove in establishing a claim for defamation, is that the speaker or writer was talking about you and made clear to his audience that he was talking about you. Vague statements about a group of people or even generally about certain types of behaviors will not typically satisfy this requirement.

Obviously, if the person uses your name or posts a picture of you in conjunction with a defamatory message, then this element is satisfied. Even without a name or picture, if there’s no way that a reader would mistake the message as being about anyone else, then this element will be satisfied. Furthermore, even if part of the audience doesn’t get that the message is about you and part of the audience does, that should still be enough to satisfy this requirement. The fact that some people wouldn’t have known this was about you while others did may affect the amount of damages you’re entitled to, but you’ll still have a valid claim under those circumstances. 

2. Is it a Matter of Opinion? 

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution broadly protects speech in the United States. Accordingly, courts are weary of punishing negative speech when it is clearly just a matter of opinion. If someone says that they don’t like your cooking, your politics or your religion, then it’s not defamation—it’s merely a matter of opinion. This doesn’t mean that someone can’t talk about religions, politics or some other disputed issue without making a defamatory statement. It simply means that it has to be more than a mere dispute over an opinion. 

For a defamatory statement to be actionable at law, it must have been about a matter of fact which was known to be untrue by the person who posted it and made with malice. For example, courts have found that statements alleging someone had a sexually transmitted disease, that someone committed a crime or that someone was otherwise of questionable moral character, have all been found to be defamatory statements. So, before you go rushing off to file a lawsuit over a statement made online, ask yourself, “Was this a matter of opinion, or was this a malicious false statement?”

3. What Damages Have You Suffered? 

The hardest part of any defamation claim is proving one’s financial damages. Even where a statement is false and made with malice and is clearly directed at you, the statement is only defamatory if you suffered damages of some kind. To put it differently, if someone posted a message online and only one hundred people read it and all hundred people commented back to the post and told them that was a terrible thing to say and that it was wrong, then there aren’t any damages. You haven’t been hurt by the statement that’s been made. Perhaps your feelings have been hurt and there’s been some sort of emotional toll on you, but the reality is that no one believed the false statement. 

Of course, this isn’t how the world works and unfortunately, even people who should know better often believe malicious statements that are made on the internet. But you will still need to prove how you were damaged by people believing that statement.

It has probably affected your personal life and your emotional wellbeing, perhaps causing you loss of sleep or even requiring you to go see a psychiatrist. Have you lost your job? Have you missed out on a higher paying opportunity at work because a manager seems to have believed what they read about you on LinkedIn? Did you face disciplinary action at a school when a Dean was handed printed materials said about you online claiming that you did something that you didn’t?

All of these would be examples of how your damages might accrue. Of course, there are many other ways that you can prove damages, but the point is that you have to have some. How have you been damaged by the defamation in your case? This is an important factor in determining whether to go forward with a suit. 

Call Cornerstone Law Firm Today

If you believe that you have been defamed by either slander or libel, you should call the Cornerstone Law Firm. Our attorneys have expertise in handling and defending against these types of claims, and we know the ins and outs of what you have to prove under Pennsylvania law in order to be successful.

Injured in a car accident in Berks County, Pennsylvania? Here’s what to do

Injured in a car accident in Berks County, Pennsylvania? Here’s what to do

When you have been injured in a car accident in Berks County, what steps should you take to protect yourself? Dealing with an insurance company can be very difficult and having your case prepared properly is very important. Here are three steps you should take if you have been injured so that you can set up a proper claim with your insurance company.

  1. Get all medical treatment your doctor suggests

The first and most important suggestion that anyone should consider when they are injured in a car accident is to get the medical treatment that their primary care physician tells them to get. This may mean an initial ride to the hospital and treatment in an emergency room, but also can include follow up rehabilitation visits and meetings with the orthopedic surgeons or other doctors and specialists. It’s tempting to try to be tough in situations like this, and it’s also natural to be concerned about the medical bills that might result. If you’ve been injured in a car crash, you should know that your car insurance includes personal injury protection (PIP) coverage.

Pennsylvania state law requires your insurance to cover at least $5,000.00 of medical bills. Depending on your particular policy, you may have even more coverage than that. And because this PIP coverage is given greater buying power under state law, this represents a lot of medical treatment. So, if your doctor tells you to get counseling, see a rehabilitation specialist, or suggests any other course of treatment, do it and make sure to submit the bills to your car insurance company. This is one of the only times in life where your medical treatment will be paid entirely by someone else without a copay or any other cost to you, so there is no reason not to pursue it. In addition, pursuing this treatment will build your claim regarding your car accident.

  1. Don’t speak to an insurance adjuster without legal advice

The requirements of politeness often make people think that they have to speak to an insurance adjuster who calls them shortly after an accident. This is not the case. An insurance adjuster, even for your insurance company, may not have your best interest at heart. They may call you and ask you how you are feeling, all as part of trying to get a statement out of you that can be used against you later. There is really no need to correspond with your insurance company until your treatment is complete or until the statute of limitations on your case is about to run out. For this reason, it’s important that you speak with a lawyer before you take the call from an insurance adjuster. A personal injury attorney in Berks County can help you to determine whether speaking to an adjuster is in your best interests or not.

  1. Know your rights

The most important thing you should remember after a car accident is to know your rights. You have a right to be compensated for the injuries that you suffer. This compensation can include pain and suffering that you have experienced as a result of the accident, lost wages, and of course, any medical bills your PIP coverage did not take care of. In other words, it’s not just about getting your medical bills paid. It can also include your lost wages and the trouble you’ve had getting back to work. All of these should be factored into an appropriate settlement.

  1. Conclusion – Call a Reading, PA Personal Injury Lawyer Today

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we help people who have been injured here in the Berks County area with their injury claims, ranging from car accidents to wrongful death. Our office is in Blandon, just outside of Reading and we help people throughout the county to gather what is necessary to present their claim and to make sure they’re getting the best settlement possible. If you have a question, call us at 610-926-7875 for a free consultation about your injury case.

Four steps to take when you’re served with a false Protection from Abuse Petition

Four steps to take when you’re served with a false Protection from Abuse Petition

Protection from Abuse Petitions, or PFAs, are the mechanism that Pennsylvania uses to protect someone claiming to be the victim of domestic violence. Some states refer to this as a “restraining order,” but in Pennsylvania, the concept is strictly limited to former or current sexual partners or members of the same household. Furthermore, to obtain a PFA, someone has to show that they are afraid of imminent harm at the hands of the defendant. If you’ve been served with a PFA Order and told not to contact someone, here are four things you need to consider immediately in preparing to defend yourself.

  1. Do not contact the person who filed the PFA

First, it is important for you to know that a Protection From Abuse Order is first entered against you “ex parte.” This means it is ordered by a judge without you present or knowing about it. Under Pennyslvania law, you will almost always first hear about someone’s allegations that you abused them from a Sheriff serving you with an order. Shockingly to most defendants, this Order is entered by a Court before you ever have a chance to defend yourself. It is vital that you not contact the person alleging abuse, as this is illegal pursuant to the Court Order. Unfortunately, many PFA defendants make that their first course of action. It’s natural to think this is a misunderstanding that can be cleared up, or to confront the person about what’s in the PFA. It’s natural—but it’s also illegal, and will land you in hot water. This is true even if the victim contacts you and says it was a mistake to file against you. Don’t respond to them: call an attorney.

Until your hearing, you are legally prohibited from contacting the person who filed the PFA against you and doing so is a criminal offense. You can be charged with an Indirect Criminal Contempt, which is a misdemeanor, and which can come with jail time. In other words, you can end up in jail for violating a PFA based on false facts. Your violation of the PFA is an independent crime known as Indirect Criminal Contempt in Pennsylvania. Your first call should be to a PFA attorney—not to the alleged victim.

  1. Determine your goals—and the other person’s—in formulating a response.

PFAs are usually not filed in a vacuum. They often precede a divorce or custody action. Is the person filing the PFA against you doing so out of spite or are they hoping to get you out of a house so they can change the locks? Do they really believe you’ve been emotionally abusive, or is this a cynical ploy on their part? Is the goal to make it hard for you to move forward with custody? Understanding what the other side is attempting to do in filing a PFA is vital to determining your next steps.

As discussed below, a PFA can be consented to in some situations, meaning you might wish to agree to the entry of an order prohibiting you from contacting this person. This is especially true if basic agreements in a parallel criminal case or custody action can be resolved as part of such an agreement. In other situations, consenting to a PFA would be disastrous. The goals of the parties are a major piece to determining your next step.

  1. Gather your evidence

A challenge to defending against false PFAs is in the very nature of the charge. It usually comes down to “he said, she said” in court, and it requires showing that the person claiming abuse is lying or grossly exaggerating. What evidence can you produce to show this is false? Was the argument legally caught on video in the house? Sometimes surveillance footage from a doorbell or security system is available. Did the alleged victim text you about the argument later? In some cases, an alleged victim has written a narrative about what happened for a third party, clearly stating there was no physical abuse. This can be important as well.

Of course, sometimes, there is no “hard” evidence about the alleged assault. It really is one person’s story against another. Having an experienced trial attorney on your side becomes even more important in these cases. Poking holes in a story without hard evidence is a challenge, but it can be done.

  1. What do you get if you “win” or “lose?”

Perhaps the most important issue is understanding the legal standard required of someone requesting a PFA and understanding what you get when you “win” or “lose.” If you prevail in defending against a PFA, no one is required to reimburse you for legal costs, and the PFA petition is dismissed. It can be refiled upon a showing of a new instance of abuse—but not for the matters in the original PFA.

“Losing” on a PFA is more serious in that it results in the entry of an order against you to prohibit you from contacting the alleged victim. It can also have a negative impact on your custody case, if one is ongoing, and potentially can be factored into a divorce decree in certain circumstances.

But PFAs can also be entered by agreement, and usually do not carry similar penalties. A PFA can be entered without a judge finding wrongdoing where both parties agree that they don’t object to an order prohibiting one person from contacting the other. In some cases, both parties consent to PFAs between each other. Sometimes PFAs are a mechanism to ensure that both parties feel that they can move on with their lives without constantly fighting over whether their communications cross the line.

But this doesn’t mean that consenting to a PFA is a good idea. Depending on your divorce, custody and financial situations, PFAs can have profoundly negative impacts on your life. A good PFA lawyer can help you decide whether consenting to a PFA with certain agreements can be better than fighting over the PFA, or whether it is a bad idea.

Conclusion: Consult with an experienced PFA lawyer

Having a PFA entered against you can be a serious problem, and can create issues for you and your family. Understanding what your options are in defending a PFA can put you and your family in a position to ensure that you aren’t harmed by the entry of a Protection From Abuse Order. If you’re local here in Berks County, call the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm to discuss you Protection From Abuse Order and how we can help you.