Legal Article - Business Law

Tort of Defamation: How does this Apply to Motor Dealers?

This particular tort receives much publicity mainly because it is the stars of public life, which have the most to lose when someone pulls a skeleton from the cupboard. For the average motor dealer it may not be such a high profile case but there may still be instances where it can be an issue.

As with negligence, the level of damages can be very high this adds to the newsworthinessof the case. Essentially the law of defamation is seeking a balance between the private right of holding your reputation versus the general right of freedom of speech.

There are two types of defamation:

  • libel which is in writing
  • slander which is verbal

The statement made does not have to name a person; it can be defamatory even if inferred. So if someone said: “I know the boss of the garage I bought this from is on the fiddle” and it
is clear from the conversation that you bought it from a particular garage or even the only garage in, say, a village, then that could be considered defamatory.

If you came into a board meeting having had a meeting with the Business Manager and said “Business Managers are all the same – it’s not long before they have their hand in the till”
then the Business Manager has an action for defamation if it is untrue.

There are defences to a claim for defamation. These are:

  • you are stating the truth
  • there is a duty to state it. If the Police question you about an employee you will be
  • obliged to say what you know when asked.
  • the statement was an opinion e.g. if a newspaper or other journal checks out a number of garages for customer service and unfortunately got Grumpy Graham when they rang you or visited. The opinion must, however, be fair comment.

Whilst it is a useful area of law to use as a threat it is not something to go to Court on unless it is absolutely necessary. Because of the level of the claim you are invariably talking about
involvement of solicitors and barristers on both sides.The outcome of cases can be unpredictable and the law is very complex requiring a lot of research.

Motor dealers sometimes come across Mr Angry who decides to walk up and down with a banner when they feel they have been treated unfairly. The Police may be prepared to be involved if there is obstruction of the highway or a breach of the peace.

On the other hand, in the writers experience, one client’s solution was to start washing cars with a high pressure hose close to the complainant…………….Enough said. Naturally we cannot recommend or support such action.

Published: 07 Mar 2011


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