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You Can’t Always Say What You Want: Understanding Defamation and Bill Cosby

By on Nov 25, 2015 in Law and Justice | 0 comments

Not all personal injury law concerns itself with physical harm to a plaintiff. Some, such as that covered by defamation law, deals with a person’s reputation. Libel and slander, the two types of defamation, can damage a person’s reputation and lead to loss of income as well as emotional pain and suffering. A New York personal injury lawyer can help you determine what kind of speech or publication is injurious to your reputation and whether your case can be fought in civil court.

While the first amendment is touted as protecting free speech, it doesn’t protect false, injurious speech. Slander is defined as negative or false speech that damages the reputation of a person, product, or company. There are currently four different types of recognized slanderous speech: 1) alleging that someone committed a crime; (2) saying someone is sick with a “foul or loathsome” illness; (3) stating that someone is not able to practice their trade or business for negative reasons; and (4) alleging they have done inappropriate or illegal sexual acts. Proving slander can be difficult. A plaintiff must show that the defendant willfully or negligently spread false information to another person and that communication lead to specific damages.

Libel, slander’s cousin, also falls under defamation law, however it is tried differently because, whereas a plaintiff in a slander case must show the slander occurred, libel is assumed to have occurred. This is because libel is published, whether it be in the form of an op-ed piece, a picture, or a comic. It is still necessary to show that the injurious piece was published maliciously or negligently and that it has caused harm to an individual or company.

Currently a high profile defamation case is being tried in the headlines. While actor and comedian Bill Cosby was charged with criminal sexual assault in Pennsylvania in December 2015, a defamation case against him by seven other alleged victims continues forward in Massachusetts. Attorneys in that case are hoping to depose Camille Cosby, Mr. Cosby’s wife, in his stead; however, she is fighting tooth and nail to avoid appearing.

Cosby isn’t just being sued for allegedly defaming the characters of seven women, he’s also suing them for sullying his reputation. Throw Janice Dickinson in the mix and Cosby’s legal woes multiply. In addition to the two Massachusetts defamation cases and the Pennsylvania criminal case, Cosby is also being sued for defamation in California by model Janice Dickinson, another of Bill Cosby’s alleged victims.

So why all the hullabaloo? Over the past couple of years, around fifty women have come forward to claim that Bill Cosby drugged, sexually assaulted, or raped them. In his zeal to condemn his attackers, it seems he may have said some things he shouldn’t have. Because the statute of limitations for sexual assault or rape had elapsed in most of the cases and the difficulty in obtaining evidence in decades-old attacks, Cosby was not charged in most of the alleged incidents. His words, however, left him open to a defamation suit. As with many victims who feel slighted by the criminal justice system, Cosby’s alleged victims are attempting to find justice and closure through personal injury law.

A New York personal injury lawyer can help you determine whether your case is suited for a civil court so you, too, can achieve the closure you need to move in. Keep in mind, however, that there are varying statute of limitations for different complaints. If you feel someone has defamed you, it is important to see a New York personal injury attorney as soon as possible. They’ll be able to help you determine whether you have enough evidence to move forward and help you attain the justice you deserve.

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