-3

One time I was walking quickly in a park trail for my exercise routine in California, and there were dog owners who didn't leash their dogs or use a 25 foot leash and let them go freely within the 25 feet radius.

So because the trail was narrow and the grass land was limited, when the dogs confronted me and sometimes even bark, I had to stop and wait for the owner to react and pull back the dog, and then I can go forward.

So when it was the 6 or 7 times that had happened, I said to that owner, "isn't he supposed to be on a leash?"

She exclaimed: "NO THEY ARE NORRRROOOOOT (NOT)!"

I was so surprised because I remembered there was some law that said all dogs need to be on leash in public parks in California or in our County.

So I called the park ranger, and the park ranger said yes, that's the law. Upon hearing what the park ranger said on my phone through the speakerphone, the lady with the dog said, "even if it is the law, I am not going to do it" and that she and her husband live in a rich city nearby.

And then she yelled with the top of her lung to the park ranger, "this CRAZY woman comes out of no where, and then...".

So by yelling loudly "CRAZY woman" to the park ranger and to a few other people nearby, is it subject to possible fine and penalty for defamation? I know in some countries in Asia, that is a US$10,000 penalty to falsely claiming somebody is crazy when obviously they are not.

12
  • 7
    Are you sure she meant to imply that you actually have a mental illness? "That stupid bitch" isn't implying you are a female dog in heat that failed an IQ test, it is "just" an insult. I would assume the same about "crazy". And yes, insulting people in other countries is illegal. In the US, it's not.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 4:58
  • 1
    In Germany, an insult is an offense if there are witnesses. Not because of evidence, but because the presence of a witness makes it an offense. Still whether “crazy woman” is an insult is another question.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 6:15
  • 2
    What damages did you suffer as a result? Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 9:00
  • 2
    Your options are (in the order I would consider them): (1) do nothing, (2) ask the park ranger to fine her for the unleashed dog, (3) ask the police/mayor/park manager to better enforce dog-on-leash rules, (4) circulate a petition to put pressure on the police/mayor/park manager to better enforce dog-on-leash rules. If the list went on, "sue for emotional distress linked with a dog attack" would be somewhere around #100. Making a frivolous defamation suit is not on the list at all.
    – KFK
    Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 12:43
  • 1
    “This Woman is Crazy” and “I know this woman spent years in a mental institution” would be very, very different things.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 15:25

2 Answers 2

4

Simply insulting someone without saying something false is not defamation in the U.S. (historically it was the subject of criminal defamation liability to might light of someone's disabilities or call them out in an insulting way, but later U.S. constitutional law jurisprudence interpreting the First Amendment in the late 20th century rendered these laws unconstitutional).

If a statement might damage someone's reputation if taken literally, and the statement is false, it can be defamatory and give rise to civil liability (or criminal liability in the few states that still have criminal defamation statutes), if the people to whom the statement is "published" (i.e. the audience of the statement) could reasonably believe that the statement was intended to be taken literally.

Whether a statement can be taken literally is an "all of the facts and circumstances" analysis. Statements meant only as hyperbole or parody or metaphorically, if a reasonable audience person would understand the statements in that sense, do not impose liability based upon what they would mean if taken literally.

Other Countries

As noted in the question itself, not all countries treat statements like this the same way. Germany imposes criminal liability for all manner of insults. England and Wales imposes defamation liability in many circumstances when U.S. law would not. And, many countries in Asia are closef to the German model of liability for insulting speech than they are to the U.S. model.

1

Simply insulting someone is not illegal. That is why I'm not posting this from a supermax.

Defamation is a civil matter. It's not something she would be arrested for- it'd be dealt with by a lawsuit.

However, defamation requires significant damage to the victim's reputation. I really cannot imagine a situation where you suffered damages besides hurt feelings here.

2
  • 3
    There are several states with "Criminal Defamation" however, this wouldn't fall into that kind of defamation (They are rarely prosecuted to begin with, so yes, on the whole, Defamation is a civil matter.).
    – hszmv
    Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 12:23
  • I agree with the unstated conclusion, i.e., that OP does not have a viable defamation action, but not with any of the premises, all of which are false or misleading. The actual law is that insulting someone may be illegal, defamation may be a criminal matter, and it does not require significant damage to the victim's reputation.
    – bdb484
    Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 17:37

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .