Sticks and stones can break your bones, but a libel suit could leave you bankrupt. If you’re one of the many individuals and small businesses engaging in online publishing via websites, blogs, Facebook and Twitter, it’s important to understand what libel is and what types of insurance can protect you if someone claims you’ve committed it.
For the purposes of explanation libel is generally held to be a false statement put in writing that harms the reputation of a living person and can be read by someone other than that person. An example would be writing that your accountant, Mary Smith, is a tax cheat. If Mary decides to sue you, depending on where you live, you could be responsible for compensatory and punitive. Your homeowner’s, renter’s and some personal umbrella insurance policies may provide some protection, but the many of these have exclusions for business-related activities, so read your policy carefully before relying on it. A better course of action might be to look into media liability insurance.
Media liability insurance coverage has been around for years, but over the past few years, they’ve modified the coverage to extend to online content. A typical policy will provide coverage for:
- Libel, slander and defamation
- Invasion of privacy
- Plagiarism, piracy and misappropriation ofproperty rights
- Copyright infringement
- Errors and omission and false or misleading statements
In comparing policies some questions to ask include:
- Are you covered if you’re sued outside of the UnitedStates?
- Do you or the insurer select the law firm if you are sued? Either option is fine, but if you’re adamant about using your own lawyer, be sure the policy you choose allow it.
- Is there a clause that allows the insurer to force you to accept settlement? This could limit your ability to fight a suit based on your First Amendment rights.
- Are punitive damages covered? These allow the plaintiff to recover money for losses suffered that exceed the actual compensatory costs. They can be huge, so you’ll want to be sure your policy provides coverage sufficient to the maximum allow by your state’s laws.
- Is it a claim’s made policy that covers claims made during the period of coverage or an occurrence-based policy that will cover you if the law suit is brought after your policy has expired?