First response to a complaint that you’ve made untrue statements about someone else/another business

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What’s a first response to a complaint that you’ve made untrue statements about someone else/another business and when do you need one?

This is the first in our suite of template letters covering the situation where someone has accused you of making one or more untrue statements about them/their business.

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.

There are two types of legally actionable untrue statement:

  1. Untrue written statements – called ‘libel’ (technically covering more enduring forms of publication, like press reports, other print or online statements); and

  2. 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.

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’; essentially meaning that the average person on the street would draw negative impressions about that person/business, based on what they have read/heard.

The threshold for bringing a court action against someone for defamation is a high one. A complainant essentially has to prove that the statement did or would cause ‘serious harm to the reputation’ of the targeted person or business and in the case of a business, this translates to that business evidencing that it’s suffered serious financial loss.

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.