People abusing defamation law for rich pickings

HARARE - Over the years, courts have been inundated with several civil claims, ranging into millions of dollars for defamation, an aspect that is sometimes necessitated by the need to make rich pickings.

While, the art of defaming someone does not have any formula, it is the exorbitant claims that often draw public attention, dragging in aspects of malice, a vengeance attempt and the need to make quick money.

Defamation usually comes in two forms, libel and slander and deals with words that would have been printed publicly or words said with an effect of harming someone’s reputation.

The harm might have caused mental pain and suffering or have the effect of destroying a person’s image, cause humiliation or loss in monetary gains.

Because some people are public figures, they use litigation as a way of clearing their names, yet sometimes the claims in the publication might not necessarily be wrong.

Most of these figures would be seeking personal glory and want appear innocent in the public eye.

The “I sued them or him” aspect helps clear plaintiffs’ conscience and because of some of the humiliating circumstances, the stance is used as a purification process.

However, in as far as it is a person’s right to claim damages for any of the bad publicity, some overdo it by claiming figures that are beyond their worth or beyond the purported damage.

In Zimbabwe, several business people and personalities have raised defamation claims against publications and certain individuals.

Their demands are synonymous of a “fly-by-night” story, meant to clear a bad image.

However, above just the cleansing process, is a fortune hunt and a quest to make money, which in most cases is not highly justifiable.

Several claims ranging between hundreds of thousands of dollars, to as much as over $10 million have been demanded by individuals, who believe their image and monetary gains lost through bad publicity is worth such high amounts.

One of the highest defamation awards was handed down in 2010 in the United Kingdom, when Donal Kinsella won $15,17 million in compensatory damages and $1,69 million in aggravated damages.

In 2012, a Texas couple who filed a defamation lawsuit against anonymous posters on the Internet forum won $13,8 million.

Mark and Rhonda Lesher of Clarksville, Texas, filed a suit against anonymous commenters who accused the couple being sexual deviants, molesters, and drug dealers.

In as far as a plaintiff in a defamation case is entitled to receive damages for any lost earnings, future lost earning capacity, and other lost business or economic opportunities suffered or is likely to suffer as a result of the defamatory statement, judges are often found in a precarious position to determine the amount of money that such kind of person is supposed to get.

Other issues are also difficult to determine as the decision making power in defamation cases is often complicated by the necessity to consider issues such as qualified privilege and whether it is defeated by malice.

It is however, the duty of the judge in all trials to decide whether or not the publication constitutes defamation upon the Plaintiff, having heard the evidence tendered by witnesses and uses his discretion on the amount of money that should be paid in the suit.

The amount of money paid is the one that has always been a subject of controversy, as there is no proper formula that determines the level of damages caused by the defamatory words.


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