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Suppose someone publishes the statement "All lawyers are thieves." Obviously, this is not true; there most likely are some lawyers who are also thieves, but certainly not all. Would it be possible for any lawyer to sue this person for defamation, either individually or in a class action?

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    For that particular statement, the defendant could rely on a truth defence. 😀
    – Dale M
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 7:41
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    If this was in fact defamation, don't you think lawyers would have sued by now?
    – hszmv
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 15:07
  • I posit individual lawyers would not have standing but a Bar Association quite probably could.
    – davidgo
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 22:58
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    You could always use a defence that what you said was factually true.
    – Richard
    Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 11:09
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    "certainly not all" - [Citation required]
    – Richard
    Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 11:09

2 Answers 2

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https://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/who-can-sue-defamation

One of the elements of defamation is that the statement must be "of and concerning" the plaintiff.

Accordingly, defamatory statements about a group or class of people generally are not actionable by individual members of that group or class. There are two exceptions to this general rule that exist when:

  • the group or class is so small that the statements are reasonably understood to refer to the individual in question; or
  • the circumstances make it reasonable to conclude that the statement refers particularly to the individual in question.

See Restatement (2d) of Torts, § 564A (1977).

The article suggests that the cutoff for a "small group" is about 25 people.

(They cite an interesting example from 1952: Neiman-Marcus v. Lait, 13 F.R.D. 311 (S.D.N.Y. 1952). A store had a sales staff of 25 male and 382 female employees. The defendant published a book asserting that "most of" the male sales staff were homosexual, which I suppose was per se defamatory in 1952, and that the female staff generally were prostitutes. The court held that the men had been defamed but the women had not.)

So since there are more than 25 lawyers in the world, "all lawyers are thieves" would not defame any individual lawyer.

I don't believe that class action suits for defamation are permitted at all. I can't currently find a source for this, but I also can't find any report of such a case having been heard.

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    Of course a Class Action for defamation would be feasible if, say, a defendant has directly defamed dozens of people by name in, for example, an OPED. A sensible judge would group all actions into a single Class Action for the sake of expedition, since the source of the defamatory statements was the same and the actions would be very similar. And we would have very happy lawyers who wouldn't need to resort to theivery [sic]. Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 13:37
  • So if my small home town has one lawyer, and while at a meeting someone stands up after the lawyer has spoken and says, "yep, sure enough, ALL lawyers ARE liars".. then that lawyer has a case?
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 14:28
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    @CGCampbell according to the second exception (the circumstances make it reasonable to conclude that the statement refers particularly to the individual in question) it seems that is possible. I would certainly assume the speaker is calling this specific lawyer a liar in roundabout terms.
    – Esther
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 14:38
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    @Mindwin: In such a case I'd expect the parties defamed to bring suit as multiple named plaintiffs in one case. But that's not really a class action. There, a single named plaintiff represents the interests of many others similarly situated, who are not individually identified and some of whom may not even know about the suit. I've never heard of a defamation suit that was a true class action; are you aware of a specific case that you can cite? Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 15:30
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    @kaya3 That followed from the article's conclusion that the cutoff was 25, not from Neiman-Marcus directly. Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 0:51
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I have the impression that certain professions are more likely to sue when faced with criticism (I hope that statement doesn't get me sued). So I searched for cases involving chiropractors and found an article about the British Chiropractors Association suing Simon Singh for libel.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2012/feb/22/simon-singh-british-chiropractic-association

The outcome was the Singh prevailed but apparently the BCA had legal advice that they had a valid cause to sue (apparently it was "iron clad") so it seems likely that given different circumstances it would be possible to win an anti-defamation case on behalf of a profession in the UK. Note this case was 10 years ago but I don't think there have been substantial changes to the libel laws in the UK in that time.

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    Singh and the BCA's case is not comparable. Singh was sued after criticising a publication by the BCA. If you accuse the American Medical Association or New York State Bar Association of being crooks, then they can sue you, because you are criticising a particular body (possibly particular individuals within that body), not just doctors and lawyers in general.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 16:33
  • The chiropractor case that I thought of is Wilk vs. AMA, though that's also not about defamation.
    – timeskull
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 17:20
  • "I don't think there have been substantial changes to the libel laws in the UK in that time" - Then I guess you didn't hear about the Defamation Act 2013?
    – mjt
    Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 14:46
  • To expand on @StuartF 's comment, legally BCA is considered a person. It is that legal person that sued, and the suit alleged that that person was defamed. Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 1:02

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