A defamation or libel lawsuit is the process through which an injured party files a legal suit against another individual, organization, entity or public figure on the basis of either verbal or written defamation. A person who suffers from defamation must first show that the statement was made with knowledge that it was false and that the statement was intended to damage, disparage or humiliate the plaintiff. In order to establish this requirement, a plaintiff has to show “actual malice,” i.e., knowledge that the statement was false, which is proven by either the plaintiff rebutting the defendant’s denial and proving that there is a reasonable doubt about the truth of the statement or by showing that some facts that were not discussed were true. A plaintiff may also rebut a defendant’s assertion that the plaintiff’s claim is merely an attempt to escape responsibility by pointing out incidences in which the defendant has behaved unethically.
A “cavalier” is defined as “a single letter which, if signed, is taken to be written”.
Thus, a “cavalier letter” is a legal document containing only one or more alleged defamatory statements that could be proved by a preponderance of the evidence. In the context of a defamation or libel case, the “cavalier letter” must include both an attached letter that contains no statement that could be construed as libel and an attached letter that contain a statement that could be construed as defamatory. Both letters are supposed to have been sent by the same person and to have been executed by the same person. The court will consider the credibility of the document as well as its date and delivery in determining whether it is legally protected.
A “cavalier” letter has a few requirements that are different from other letters that are not considered as “cavalier”.
In fact, it is quite rare for a legal document to contain any statements that are considered defamatory. Additionally, a letter cannot be drafted or intended to be used as a private letter between an attorney and client. This letter is always a part of a legal discovery process and can only be used during discovery. In other words, the recipient of the letter must receive it as a discovery document.
The “cavalier” rule applies to all state and local laws as well.
Therefore, almost any statement regarding a matter affecting a person’s private life is actionable under the law. Therefore, a statement regarding a sexual act between an adult and a minor, a statement concerning the sexual activity of a minor in a professional capacity, or an endorsement, commercial or otherwise of a product endorsed by a person or business are all actions that could be considered defamatory if made in connection with a golf course or another similar public place. Furthermore, even statements that are not within the private life of a public figure are actionable as long as they reasonably tend to tarnish the reputation of a public figure. Whether a plaintiff maintains that there is sufficient evidence that the defendant’s statements amount to a reasonable perception of the truth, a court will often find the plaintiff to have failed to establish a fact of general importance.
In a recent case from Florida, a Tampa-based doctor was sued for purportedly defaming a patient in his medical journal.
The plaintiff in this case, a registered nurse, alleged that the doctor falsely wrote in his journal that he did not think that a patient with diabetes would ever enjoy a golf game. The doctor, Mark S. Brown, argued that the statement was not defamatory as it accurately reflected his position; that Florida is a state where golfers go for a leisurely 18-hole round at a country club instead of a professional golf tournament. The Florida court found otherwise and upheld the plaintiff’s right to pursue a suit based on the alleged defamatory statements.
Whether or not you agree with Mark S. Miller’s opinion that a golfer who enters a hotel room does so with the understanding that he may be subjected to a lie detector examination, whether you believe that a mere compliment is sufficient to create a defamatory situation, or whether Miller’s golf-themed journal entry was really the straw that broke the camel’s back, it is clear that the rules governing doctor-patient relationships have undergone some major changes over the last decade.
This most certainly bodes well for those who wish to share their experiences with doctors either through a story in their blog or via an article in a medical journal. Perhaps more importantly, however, doctors will be better able to weed out the leakers if they are able to prove beyond any doubt that the disclosure was indeed deliberate. This new accountability can only help patients, who no longer have to put up with surreptitious recordings in their own medical recorders.