This guide contains the first two template letters that our expert partners at Wilkes recommend you use as the basis for responding to accusations that you said something untrue about someone else.
If you’re the business about whom the untrue statements have been made and you intend to complain, you’ll need our separate suite of templates relating to untrue statements.
The templates are a great starting point for you to adapt as needed; they're not a substitute for taking advice.
Before we get to the templates, it's worth covering a few points on handling untrue statements.
How does the law handle complaints about untrue statements?
There are two types of legally actionable untrue statement:
Untrue written statements – called ‘libel’ (technically covering more enduring forms of publication, like press reports, other print or online statements); and
Untrue verbal statements – called ‘slander’ (technically covering more transient statements, such as spoken words or even gestures).
Whether a statement comes in written or verbal format, (i.e. it is libellous or slanderous), it falls under the general law of defamation.
A defamatory statement is one that causes, or is likely to cause, damage to the reputation of the person/business on that it targets.
It's not easy to prove to a level that justifies compensation
This is the potentially good news.
The legal measure of whether something is defamatory or not is whether, in the eyes of a court, the statement would ‘lower’ the person/business targeted ‘in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally’.
This essentially means that the average person on the street would need to draw damaging negative impressions about that person/business, based on what they have read or heard.
The threshold for bringing a court action against someone for defamation is a high one.
The complainant essentially has to prove that:
the statement did or would cause ‘serious harm to their reputation’,
and in the case of a business,
it’s suffered serious financial loss as a direct consequence of the damaging statement.
There is also a type of claim known as ‘malicious falsehood’ which applies where a person maliciously publishes false statements about you or your business and which cause you loss – usually a loss of business.
This claim has a lot in common with defamation, but there are subtle differences.
In some ways, it can be a little easier to prove than defamation, but it’s more restrictive in the sums that can be claimed as compensation.
So, unless what you have written or said falls into the classification of being highly damaging, there's a good chance that any threatened legal action against you is not going to stand up in court.
Reputation damage is often the weightier risk
Be careful you don't make things worse.
How you handle these kinds of allegation can have a critical bearing on your general trading reputation.
For many businesses, this is often the far more serious consideration than any threat of legal action. If the complaining business is a customer, industry influencer or someone else who can harm your trading reputation if they decide to make a public show of the situation, you'll need to have a good PR (and potentially customer-relations) plan for what you do.
While not always the case, (since costly injunctions - court emergency 'gagging' orders - can be obtained privately), court actions generally play out in open court.
That means they're fair game for the press, your competition, universities and students looking for case-studies, etc.
For more background on the legal position relating to defamation, take a look at our guide to defamation.
If you’re in any doubt about how to handle accusations that you've said something untrue that has caused harm to someone else or their business, our pay-as-you-go speak to a lawyer service is ideally positioned to help you. Farillio’s expert partners are very well-qualified to support you in these circumstances.
Template Letter 1 - Someone's accused you, so let's send your reply
Our reply template letter gives you two options.
- Firstly, you may wish to acknowledge that you made the statement and use suitably apologetic wording; you'll find suggested wording in the template, for you to modify as you prefer.
- You may want to reject the accusation and again, you'll find suggested wording to assist you in the second option block included within this template.
In the second optional wording block, the wording helps you to either
reject responsibility for the statement(s) made; you may want to highlight in your reply that, e.g.:
You/your business did not make the statements (true or otherwise)
If you know who did make the statement, you may wish to clarify this / if you’re not sure, make sure you note this as a suggestion for where the statement may have originated, rather than stating it as a bold fact
to acknowledge that you did make the statement, but you consider that it is true.
Here, you may wish to provide evidence of the truth of what you have said as part of your explanation about why you said it, or you may prefer simply to remove the statement in any event, making clear that action is not an admission of wrongdoing…
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