We’ve all had rumors started about us…and it’s rarely the good ones that catch on and spread like wild fire! While the author of this quote couldn’t be found, the sentiment is certainly appreciated:
“I love rumors. I always find out amazing things about myself I never knew.”
Humor is certainly one way to deal with hearing rumors and lies about our lives. But there are times when the rumors begin to damage you and your livelihood. When is it appropriate to sue for damages from rumors? When do you have a case that would stand up in court?
WHAT IS DEFAMATION?
Defamation is defined in Oxford Dictionaries as ‘the action of damaging the good reputation of someone”. Defamation of character is either in the form of libel or slander, with libel being defamation in writing and slander being oral. The defamation must have been heard by a third party and could have been conveyed through broadcast, in a speech, on a sign, in a conversation, through email, or on social media sites.
Defamation can escalate to a lawsuit if the slander or libel is false, but presented as truth, and if it caused damages. If the statement was stated as an opinion, it is difficult to prove that it was intentionally false, even if it caused damages. In most cases, the damages need to be proven. With some libel and/or slander, the damages caused do not have to be proven; these circumstances include stating that the person was guilty of a crime, was unfit to run a business, etc., when the statements were knowingly untrue.
WHAT TO DO?
Having a lawyer to help prove your legal malpractice lawsuit case is a good idea as it is difficult to prove in a court setting. There is evidence to collect and an attorney can help you to determine which pieces are appropriate. In addition, if you do not have the proof necessary, you can end up in trouble as your suit is essentially calling the accused a liar.
Lastly, an attorney can help you to see what you would stand to gain from a court if you win. If you are looking more toward justice being served, your reputation being protected, and money is not the top motivation, this aspect may not be as important. However, if funds are a little tighter, it may be worthwhile to determine if the efforts are worth the reward.
An attorney can also help to determine if the defaming statement falls under either of the protected categories – qualified or absolute privilege. Absolute privilege statements are legal ones where witnesses or officials were asked to give statements without having to worry about defamation consequences. Qualified privilege are statements made by people who have the right to make a statement, such as a former employer giving statements to a potential employer.
The type of evidence necessary will vary. If the defamation is in the form of slander, witness statements from those present are necessary. If in writing, the proof is certainly more straightforward. Proving how these statements have harmed you or your business is also necessary. This can include proving you’ve lost worked or were harassed or ignored by others after the statement. If you already have a negative reputation and there are many negative opinions floating around about you, it will be more difficult to prove that the one statement made is the culprit.
If you have a strong case, a settlement out of court between you and the other party is another potential outcome, allowing both parties to avoid further litigation costs.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency charged with protecting the safety of 130 million workers (according to OSHA). 2015 statistics quoted on their site state that 4,836 workers were killed on the job. The fatality number is down from almost 3 times the amount in 1970, showing some of the important work that OSHA has been accomplishing. However, if you are one of the 4.1 million American workers hurt on the job in a given year, you certainly want to know your legal rights.
WHAT IS A WORK ACCIDENT?
Work accidents are injuries that occur at work that are unintentional. They generally are accidents occurring in connection with the person’s duties. The most common accidents include ones associated with heavy lifting, falling object, ladders or stairs, vehicular injuries, or slips. Imagine you had an accident with a slush maker machine.
WHAT TO DO?
The first step after an accident is to create an accident report. Even if you are not sure if you are really injured or not, there are often short windows of time to report your accident to be eligible for compensation. In the end, if you are not injured, there is no harm in having reported it and can help to alert your employer of unsafe conditions. Similarly, dependent upon the severity of the injury, an emergency room or doctor’s visit should be sought quickly after the accident. Many employers have a doctor they work with for workplace injuries – you would be required to see that doctor if you are seeking compensation from your employer. However, it is also your right to seek a second opinion if you do not agree with the report. It is also helpful to schedule an appointment with your regular practitioner as they know you better than a doctor seeing you for a first visit.
Nearly every employer is required to maintain workplace insurance that provides workers compensation coverage for employees. A worker does not have to prove employer negligence to collect workers’ compensation. However, if an employee is compensated under workers’ compensation, the employee cannot sue their employer. Employees are encouraged to follow-up with their employer to ensure that the claim was filed. You are also allowed to obtain a copy of the claim.
Even with workers’ compensation, there are attorneys available for consultation to make sure you are receiving the benefits you are entitled to receive. In addition, there are times when legal disputes can arise between employee and employer, especially if employer is not willing to take any responsibility for injuries. If there is a disagreement, you should make sure to keep all documents related to the injury, including time sheets, pay stubs, medical treatment, medical records, and statements from coworkers who witnessed the event. A lawyer should definitely be consulted if there were other characteristics associated with the injury such as being injured by a defective product or by a toxic substance, if your employer does not have workers’ compensation, or if your employer does not act in a responsible way to handle the situation.
If you’ve ever argued with family members or significant others, the argument can sometimes devolve past what is healthy and productive in pursuit of being right. Or the personal relationship can stand in the way of finding a helpful compromise in the argument. Mediation can be a useful tool in both of these situations. If the parties will still need to maintain a relationship past a court settlement, mediation can help find a practical solution to an issue. Family court, especially involving children, is one of the sticky situations that mediation can be helpful in.
WHAT IS A MEDIATOR?
In short, a mediator is someone who will assist parties to find an agreement suitable for both sides. Discussions including the mediator are confidential and not admissible to court in most states. This aspect allows the parties to talk freely and think more towards a practical solution, rather than defending themselves from statements or going on the offensive to prove the other party wrong.
Often, mediators have legal or mental health backgrounds as their professional training. Mediators should be neutral in their evaluation and resolution of your case. They do not judge whether the case could stand up in court; rather, they are solution oriented.
Advantages to using a mediator include the cost of mediating which can range from a few hundred dollar to several thousand, which are both less than those that would arise from a lawsuit. In most cases, judges will order the parties to mediate before bringing the case to trial.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN MEDIATION?
Mediation will only be successful if both parties are willing to work towards reaching an agreement. Mediators will continue to work with parties until a settlement can be reached or until they determine that a settlement is not possible.
Mediators can do this through many different methods, but they will largely play roles that encourage communication between the two parties. They can educate both sides as to resolution options to be considered and advise on the process. Translation of messages and feelings from one party to another, clarification of meanings and intent, and helping each side to be fully heard by the other are all parts of encouraging communication.
Mediators will point out both the strengths and weaknesses in what you are bringing to mediation. They will also be doing this with the other party. Coming to an agreement through negotiation is a process; do not be surprised if the first offers from the other party are quite a bit away from what you were hoping to settle on.
Lawyers can still be part of the mediation process. While you are looking for answers that would be a compromise, attorneys can help to advise whether your potential settlement would harm you in any way.
If the case does not settle through mediation, it is not all wasted effort. You will have learned some of what the other party was thinking, what they are hoping for in terms of settling, and areas they are willing to negotiate. Going through mediation does not forfeit your rights to a trial and that can still be a viable option.
America’s founding fathers greatly valued freedom of religion and strove to protect those whose religion was different than the majority. In developing a framework as to how this would be done, they used the concept of separation of church and state. In Thomas Jefferson’s letter to a Baptist Association, he explained the concept as such:
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” (Jefferson, Thomas (1802-01-01). “Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists”. U.S. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2006-11-31)
The way to protect individual freedoms, just like installing home alarms, was to also protect government from the influences of religion. There are, however, many places where Christian religion has been on prominent display – from statues on government property to praying before government meetings…so what gives? How does this show separation of church and state?
WHAT THE LAW SAYS?
The First Amendment to the Constitution establishes the relationship between religion and government. In it, government is prevented from establishing a national religion and is limited in participation in religious activity. The Supreme Court has made numerous rulings requiring public officials to be neutral in their treatment and for schools to not show favoritism, hostility, or sponsorship of one religion over another. At the same time, however, a school or government entity also has the responsibility to protect religious activity that is stated by an individual. A quick summary of the application would say that while a government representative may not lead religious activities (prayer, scripture readings, etc.), compel others to participate, or encourage one religion over another, they also may not stop someone from starting a religious activity.
Looking at this in terms of a public education facility, individuals, including students and teachers, are permitted to participate in religious sacraments during non instructional or break times. Similarly, religious groups or clubs before or after school/work, but on government property, are permissible.
Some public institutions have used ‘moments of silence’ in place of prayer in response to grave situations. These are also protected as long as individuals are not encouraged or discouraged from prayer during the time.
In summary, neutral stances on religious issues are by far the safest routes to take. If specific contexts are being considered, it would be worthwhile to consult the institution’s attorney. For instance, how to handle the accommodation of religious obligations can be tricky. In Islam, prayer is required at certain times of day, wherever the follower may be. This could potentially include work, school, or public spaces. As it is the government’s duty to protect religious freedom, but also to not favor one religion over another, how to work with the individual should be fair and balanced. Other situations can include public prayer at significant events such as institutional ceremonies. An attorney can help to navigate the laws and cases that have occurred and help to make sure the event is framed correctly to protect the separation between church and state.