A Lawyer’s Perspective on Internet Misconduct: Suing and Filing Protection Orders in Washington State
In Washington and the world in general, online harassment, stalking, false statements and and other intentional acts of online reputation damage is very much a problem. WIth the ability to publish to the world via the internet at everyone’s fingertips now … reputational damage, business damage, career damage, professional license damage and relationship damage is unfortunately all too common … as are the trolls and dysfunctional people who feed on doing this. As lawyers who believe in results so we support taking action and have done so for various businesses, professionals and victims over the course of our career and we find this question comes up a lot. What can be done? With that in mind, people do have some remedies through legal action but more often than not figuring out what can be done is messy. Online statements, true or not, that are not covered by the First Amendment can fall under a variety of different civil action theories, including:
- False Light
- “A false light claim arises when someone publicizes a matter that places another in a false light if (a) the false light would be highly offensive to a reasonable person and (b) the actor knew of or recklessly disregarded the falsity of the publication and the false light in which the other would be placed. The theoretical difference between the two torts is that a defamation action is primarily concerned with compensating the injured party for damage to reputation, while an invasion of privacy action is primarily concerned with compensating for injured feelings or mental suffering.” Eastwood v. Cascade Broad. Co., 106 Wn.2d 466, 470–71, 722 P.2d 1295, 1297 (1986)
- Interference with a Business Expectancy
- “A claim for tortious interference with a business expectancy requires five elements: (1) the existence of a valid contractual relationship or business expectancy, (2) that defendants had knowledge of that relationship, (3) an intentional interference inducing or causing a breach or termination of the relationship or expectancy, (4) that defendants interfered for an improper purpose or used improper means, and (5) resultant damage.” Manna Funding, LLC v. Kittitas Cnty., 173 Wn. App. 879, 897, 295 P.3d 1197, 1207 (2013), as amended on denial of reconsideration (Apr. 9, 2013)
- “A defamation claim for either libel or slander requires (a) “a false and defamatory statement concerning another”; (b) “an unprivileged communication to a third party”; (c) “fault amounting at least to negligence on the publisher’s part”; and (d) “either actionability of the statement or special harm caused by the publication.”” Emeson v. Dep’t of Corr., 194 Wn. App. 617, 639–40, 376 P.3d 430, 442–43 (2016)
- Invasion of Privacy
- “invasion of privacy by publication requires the publicized matter “(a) would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (b) is not of legitimate concern to the public.”” Emeson v. Dep’t of Corr., 194 Wn. App. 617, 640, 376 P.3d 430, 443 (2016)
- Stalking Harassment or Cyberstalking
- Harassment can be a Civil Case but also these kinds of actions are all covered by Civil Protection Orders in Washington.
- Distribution of Intimate Images
- Washington law allows you to sue for actual damages including, but not limited to, pain and suffering, emotional distress, economic damages, and lost earnings, reasonable attorneys’ fees, and costs if someone posts intimate images they knew were to be private or accessed them in a way they should had no right to do.
How do we know? We have done it so we know choosing whether to sue someone, file a protection order or go to the police is often a difficult and sometimes complex decision. Sometimes people are is debt proof; sometimes you cannot prove who did something even if your sure who it is; sometimes the police are not interested or will not follow through; sometimes you need to sue to get a internet company to give the IP address of who was behind a posting; sometimes you can do nothing; sometimes it doesn’t make financial sense to do something; sometimes people are just flat crazy; sometimes it is pretty easy to just go get a protection order; sometimes winning is easy while other times it is impossible. Weighing the facts and making legal decisions without the counsel of an aggressive, staunch and reputable lawyer is a fools errand … so if you are still reading this and genuinely wish to explore your facts with someone who can actually do something about it … hire us to review your case with you. That said, please understand reviewing facts and cases takes time and we get too many calls asking for consultations with the expectation that our time can be freely given and unfortunately it cannot. Also, like it or not, we get quite a few calls from people who need to be in a mental health institution or in fact, are calling from one which makes returning random calls or emails almost impossible given the waste of time. So if you are serious about exploring the liability of online harassment, reputational damage or online posting about you or your business or person, we suggest you hit the BOOK A CONSULTATION to the right for an hour video appointment, or, email for a paid appointment if you believe your you will need more time to explain your situation in person as we also understand some situations are very complicated and sufficiently personal they are best done in the privacy and protection of our office. We know. We have been involved and helped make command decisions in more than our fair share of them.