Yesterday a jury in Beaufort awarded local Municipal Court Judge Maureen Coffey $6 million dollars, $2 million actual and $4 million punitive, for statements made about the Judge by the Home Owners Association at Sea Pines in Hilton Head, stemming from reports of break-ins into her home and allegations of interference with the authorities’ investigation. http://www.islandpacket.com/2012/06/06/2093093/jury-says-hilton-head-magistrate.html
The defense argued that a judge, being a public figure, opens the door for criticism, and any and all criticism Judge Coffey received was reasonable and anticipated. The jury clearly disagreed and sided with the plaintiff’s counsel, who argued that the Defendant acted with actual malice, a threshold for a punitive damages award.
There are two types of defamation: 1) written or libel; and 2) verbal, or slander. In order to successfully bring a defamation claim a plaintiff must first prove the basic elements. The basic elements of defamation are (1) a false statement (written or spoken) (2) made to a third person (3) that damages someone’s reputation. The Plaintiff needs someone to testify that he or she received a written defamatory statement from the defendant or that he or she heard the defendant actually speak defamatory words. Second hand evidence or hearsay is insufficient.
In the case involving Judge Coffey, the statements were admitted by the defendant. There was never a proof issue. The issue was whether or not the statements were false, and if false, whether they were made with malice. The jury believed that the statements were false and made with actual malice, which led to a very handsome verdict.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of defamation, please contact one of our personal injury lawyers at Miller|Conway at +843.764.3334. We are a Charleston Area personal injury law firm located in Goose Creek handling personal injury cases throughout the Greater South Carolina region and we are here for you when you need us.
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