Words have consequences, and one Asheville, N.C., woman has just learned that being a jerk on the Internet can be extremely expensive, because she just lost a $500,000 defamation lawsuit for snarking about a former coworker on Facebook.
According to The Citizen Times, in response to a Facebook post about a woman named Davyne Dial who manages a local radio station, a former coworker of Dial’s named Jacquelyn Hammond left a comment that read, “I didn’t get drunk and kill my kid.”
That’s an extraordinarily cruel thing to say, because Dial did lose a child. Hammond’s comment is also not true, and that’s part of what cost her a ton of money in the end. Dial’s 11-year-old son was accidentally killed by another boy in a tragic gun accident. Dial was not drunk, and she did not have anything to do with it. The incident happened back in 1976, but that kind of pain never goes away, and that’s probably part of why Dial landed on Hammond like a ton of bricks when she saw the comment.
“It started sinking in that she was making this allegation on social media and that it was going out to other people, so therefore she’s telling people I got drunk and killed my child. In fact, my child was killed in an accident with another little boy, playing with guns,” Dial told the Citizen Times.
Who the hell makes fun of someone for losing a child? The Internet occasionally makes a person forget that they are talking to real people, but at some point between typing “I didn’t get drunk and kill my kid” and hitting “publish,” isn’t Jiminy Cricket supposed to show up and say, “Maybe don’t be an asshole today?”
That lack of conscience cost Hammond dearly, because Dial came after her with a lawsuit for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Her lawyer argued that Hammond had publicly accused her “of a reprehensible felony crime of manslaughter or murder.”
Hammond said that the post was made by accident, and that it wasn’t about Dial and had been meant to be pasted into another conversation on a different page, and that she pasted it into a discussion of Dial by accident. She reportedly tried to have the case dismissed, but was denied. Dial maintains she also has evidence that Hammond meant the comment to be about her.
In the end, the suit was settled and Hammond was ordered to pay $250,000 in actual damages and $250,000 in punitive damages, for a total of $500,000. Dial may not ever actually collect any of that, but the public settlement sure sends a message about watching what one says on Facebook (and, you know, not accusing people of murdering their children).