When word of mouth can damage your reputation

Dear Karen,

I rented my bull to a neighbour.

My neighbour is telling anyone who will listen that my bull is infertile, because his cows aren’t in calf yet.

The neighbour in question was warning local people, including many of my past and potential customers, not to do business with me.

I have seen an email he sent to another neighbour.

My bull had a fertility test done, when we bought him first, and he hasn’t provided me with any evidence that our bull is infertile.

Nor did he approach me first to discuss this.

This is now costing me business, and my neighbours are going elsewhere to buy and lease bulls.

Is there anything I can do?


Dear Reader,

It is unfortunate that your neighbour did not approach you first to discuss the matter.

You may have a potential case in the tort of defamation.

Defamation is covered by the Defamation Act 2009, and encompasses the old torts of libel and slander, which respectively covered defamatory statements made orally and those made in writing.

Section 6(2) of the 2009 Act provides that defamation consists of the publication of a defamatory statement concerning another person, by any means, to another person who is not the person about which the statement is being made.



A defamatory statement is defined as a statement that tends to injure a person’s reputation in the eyes of reasonable members of society. A defamatory statement can be one made in writing, or one made orally.


It is important here to note that section 38 of the 2009 Act provides for a one-year time limit within which to take a case of defamation, which can sometimes be extended to up to two years, subject to judicial discretion.

The two main types of damages awarded are general damages, is an award in respect of damage to reputation, and special damages in respect of financial losses resulting from that damage to reputation.

Sometimes a court will also award punitive damages, when the defendant made the defamatory statement maliciously or recklessly.

The court may also order that there is a correction of the statement to be published.

Depending on when the defamatory statement occurred, you may need to avail of legal advice as soon as possible, as you may be near the end of this limit.

Defamation tends to favour plaintiffs, that is, the person bringing the action, insofar as the alleged defamatory statement is presumed to be false until it is proved to be true.

Section 16 of the 2009 Act provides for the defence of truth which the defendant can rely on. This is a complete defence to the allegation, and means that if the defendant can prove that what they said was true, it is not defamation.

Although an action in defamation is certainly an option, it is of the utmost importance that you seek the advice of a solicitor.

The costs involved in a defamation action are only the tip of the iceberg in this kind of situation.


It is necessary to consider whether it is worth having a (quite possibly public) feud with your neighbour.

It may be preferable to speak to your neighbour, or perhaps engage in mediation, in order to come to some agreement and to minimise the potential fall-out of taking an action in defamation.


Karen Walsh, from a farming background, is a solicitor practicing in Walsh & Partners, Solicitors, 17, South Mall, Cork (021-4270200), and author of ‘Farming and the Law’.

Walsh & Partners also specialises in personal injury claims, conveyancing, probate and family law.

Email: info@walshandpartners.ie Web: www.walshandpartners.ie.

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