Will a Defamation Action Lie if you Call your Neighbor a Witch?

That is the question posed in a wonderfully entertaining and historically interesting article written by Dave Kluft from Boston’s firm Foley Hoag.

As his article points out, accusations of being a “witch doctor” and the use of “witchcraft” have served as a basis for defamation and slander suits around the country, and still percolate through various courts.   In New York, witchcraft is no longer considered a crime, so it is unlikely to be considered slander per se, however, you should still mind what you say.

In defamation per se cases, New York law doesn’t require a plaintiff to prove that they were “damaged” by the offending words, but a jury will decide how much or how little injury occurred. Damages are assumed only where the person defaming someone alleges that the injured person:

  1. Committed a crime (usually like theft, or other serious crimes of moral torpitude);
  2. Injured the plaintiff in his business trade or profession;
  3. Charged that a plaintiff has a loathsome disease;
  4. Imputing that a plaintiff (usually a woman) was unchaste.

The Bottom Line– as the world of social media supplants face to face interaction the rise of defamation lawsuits has lead to interesting cases, many hurt feelings, and an era of incivility that we should all seek to overcome.   Enjoy Halloween with your favorite . . . . . and get off the computer.