In Lawyer's Defamation Action, Draft Complaint Afforded Absolute Privilege

In Lawyer's Defamation Action, Draft Complaint Afforded Absolute Privilege

Virginia courts have long held that statements made in connection with judicial proceedings are entitled to absolute protection from defamation liability. To encourage truthfulness in litigation, Virginia public policy has extended an absolute privilege to statements made in a party's pleadings, statements made during depositions, and to the testimony of witnesses at trial, provided the statements are generally relevant to the proceeding. But what protection, if any, should be afforded to pre-litigation statements, such as those contained in a demand letter to a prospective defendant?

Fairfax Circuit Court Judge R. Terrence Ney recently had the opportunity to consider whether a defamation claim could be based on allegedly defamatory statements made in a draft complaint forwarded to a small group of prospective defendants for purposes of exploring settlement opportunities prior to filing suit. The issue has not yet been decided by the Virginia Supreme Court, and is particularly interesting because the ethical rules that prohibit lawyers from making frivolous claims arguably do not apply to statements made outside a judicial proceeding. As a result, when drafting pre-litigation demand letters, many lawyers are far less assiduous in their fact-checking than they would be when filing an actual pleading with the court.

Read the rest of the article at the Virginia Business Litigation Lawyer blog

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