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LeavesNoTrace's avatar

Could my father get me for defamation if everything I say can be proven true?

Asked by LeavesNoTrace (2527 points ) March 10th, 2013

As some of you may know, my relationship with my father has always been tenuous at best and has recently been exacerbated by his horrible behavior in the wake of my Mom’s illness and premature death.

Those of you less familiar may find it helpful to refer to an earlier question of mine below.
http://www.fluther.com/153459/how-can-i-protect-my-terminally-ill-mom-from-my-rageaholic/

My father’s behavior toward my mother, my older brother and myself have been absolutely abysmal for our entire lives and it’s no better now that my Mom has tragically died. The guy is a chronic, unrepentant abuser, a lose canon and obviously delusional and mentally ill.

Before my mother passed, she made it clear that she wanted to leave something behind for all of her children. Unfortunately, she never got to make it official in writing before the cancer took her from us.

Now her life insurance has come due and he has given my older brother his fair share as promised. However, despite him verbally telling me that there will be something for me and he will contact me when it’s available, I have yet to hear anything from him. I’m nervous he might just stiff me to add insult to the injury of losing my Mom.

Today I’m going to write him a nice, polite email checking in with him and gently asking about the money. It’s not a huge amount but it’s enough to get me back on my feet and help me move on with my life so it’s VERY important that I get him to cooperate with me.

Unfortunately, if he chooses not to cooperate I fear there is not much I legally can do to contest him. We are from the state of New York and the law states that if there is no will, that the funds go to the spouse—even if he is a pig from hell.

I have several recordings of my mother took of him verbally abusing her as she lay dying in her last days. He comes at her like a mad dog as she struggles to speak and even to breathe, barely able to fend him off as he screams and swears at her saying terrible things about her and our family—myself included. It goes on for hours and hours at times, he was relentless in his cruelty and I’m almost positive that the stress she endured thanks to him killed her even faster.

Despite her illness, my mother was of sound enough mind to take these recordings herself and personally emailed them to me. She wanted me to have them to build a case against him if the abuse got even worse. However, she begged me not to call the cops and get him removed from the home as her health insurance depended on his job. It was a horrible situation and one I fear will leave me bitter and traumatized for a while. When she died, at least I had the peace of knowing she wasn’t enduring that terrible man anymore.

Now, I’m fearing the possibility that my father might deal one more blow to me by denying me my mother’s final gift to me; the money she wanted me to have and my birthright as her loving and faithful daughter.

If that happens, I’m fully prepared to take punitive action to avenge my mother and my siblings by releasing the abusive recordings to several people. I will send them to my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, several family members and perhaps some of his “friends” and coworkers.

He even has a new girlfriend I may send them to—he allegedly started dating her less than A WEEK after my Mom died but I suspect he was being unfaithful with her before she passed. I’d like her to know what kind of guy she’s seeing. I might also send them to some important people from his town who will socially shun him further, but I don’t know if I should even bother since he’s already hated by a lot of people for acting like an asshat in general.

I’ve committed to do this if I can legally get away with it. If I can’t get that money, I really have nothing to lose and I may even do it anyway after I’ve severed all contact with him and changed my phone number. From what I’ve researched, it’s not defamation if it’s true and this is as true as it gets.

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33 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

If you are going to write to him, use real, old-fashioned pen and paper and send the letters as registered mail. That way, you have old-fashioned records.

Keep your language moderate. Remind him of his having told you that there will be something for you when it’s available. Use his behavior towards your older brother as a gentle reminder. Keep your statement factual and short.

Without a will, you really are at his mercy.

Save your old testament wrath for afterwards. It’s not defamation if you say nothing defamatory.

For now, no vitriol or personal attacks, no matter how justified. What’s your older brother’s opinion?

Good luck.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@gailcalled Thanks for the response.

I’m currently living abroad so email is much easier and faster. Do emails not count as admissible records?

I’ve started drafting a light, friendly email to him—asking him how he is, wishing him well, telling him a bit about what I’ve been up to as well. And then reminding him about his statement that there is something for me and that he has already made good toward my brother. I’m going to tell him that I could use the money to pay for some medical bills, student loans, and to get back to the US and restart my life. All very honorable causes I think.

My brother is on my side. He is my father’s stepson but my Mom’s firstborn. She loved all of us and wanted us all to be taken care of. She regretted not being able to handle her affairs earlier and I think she was worried about what would happen. My bro thinks I should wait to see what happens. He said he would ask about my money once his check clears since he’s afraid asking will make my father apt to cancel it. (He is batshit crazy, after all.)

I’m inclined to maybe ask him not to mention it and let me handle it. His opinion of my brother is even lower than of me since he’s a stepchild. Keep in mind this hatred is regardless of what we do in our lives, as far as he’s concerned , we’re scum.

Hopefully in the spirit of peace and fairness, he’ll do what he said he would. And I won’t need to bust out the old testament justice. Or I may just do it someday when he doesn’t expect. Sumbitch has it coming BIG TIME.

gailcalled's avatar

I would still send a real letter, even from abroad. My daughter is in Vancouver, BC, Canada and mail usually arrives in less than a week. Where are you?

Email can be fudged. Registered mail provides a chain of custody; he may be infuriated by that, however.

I would not count on him doing anything in the name of peace and fairness. That is wishful thinking on your part. As far as he’s concerned, we’re scum.

OTOH, he did settle up with your brother. Use your judgment; don’t let your fury affect your behavior, as tempting as it is.

SamandMax's avatar

We’re talking technology here where e-mails are concerned, and technology is far easier to manipulate than good old handwritten stuff. So stick to the letters. Risk the anger of old fashioned letters being received than to be made an idiot out of by tampered messages – it’s easily done.
Keep your head screwed onto your shoulders.
Not for nothing the phrase is “Keep calm and carry on”

Shippy's avatar

I think @gailcalled had the best approach. Alternatively since he has paid out your brother, could you not ask your brother to assist you in getting your part?

Death is so emotional, so is the Wills/no Wills situation. So when you do pen your note, try and remain none defensive and kindly. Then once you get your money, I’d dump him. Seriously he sounds so toxic.

YARNLADY's avatar

To answer your actual question, you can be sued for defamation even if all the charges are true, by asserting them publicly. True statements are still damaging.

marinelife's avatar

You’re in a tough position. Legally, you have no claim on the money. Ask him once nicely, but if he doesn’t come through, just let it go.

You should seek relief from your very natural anger at you mother’s treatment through therapy or a grief group (bereavement). Don’t let it fester. It will eat away at you and steal any chance of future joy from your life. That’s not what your mother would have wanted for you.

Completely give up the idea of revenge. Your father is not worth it. Keeping on thinking about him keeps you enmeshed with him. Cut him out of your life (after you find out if he is giving you the money). If necessary, you could use the tape recordings to get a restraining order, but otherwise let it go.

Good luck. I hope you can begin moving on with your life right away.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@YARNLADY from what I’ve read, in order for it to be defamation, it must be provably false. According to www.nolo.com Defamation is all of the following:

published
false
injurious
unprivileged

In order to be legal defamation, the statement has to be untrue. If what you’re saying is the truth, then publishing a negative review of a business would also be illegal. The recordings are proof and I’m not publishing them on a 3rd party site for all to see. I’d be sharing them among family members and other people who deserve to know so they can know the truth about the kind of guy they’re dealing with.

I don’t believe in Karma. That’s for lazy people who don’t take action. Nobody should get away with the kind of shit he’s pulled.

Seaofclouds's avatar

I agree with @gailcalled in regards to the handwritten letter. Unfortunately, with no will stating that your mother intended to give you any money, you are at his mercy in getting it, so definitely stay away from the defensive side of things.

I also agree with @marinelife in regards to letting go of this idea of revenge. Obviously, I don’t know your mother, but as a mother, I know I wouldn’t want any of my children to hold on to something like this and feel like they needed to get revenge for me. Also, you have to be careful about releasing the tape recordings. There are various laws about recording people without their knowledge which could come in to play if this did end up going further.

I understand your anger and frustration, but vengeance really will not take any of that away. Only your own healing will take those away.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@Seaofclouds

NYS is a one party consent state. Meaning that is legal to record someone without their knowledge and that the person doing the recording counts as the consenting party.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@YARNLADY @LeavesNoTrace Legally, you’re both correct. Truth is an absolute defense against defamation charges, but that doesn’t stop a suit from being brought in the first place. No one can stop someone from suing them for defamation, but they can bring the suit to a swift halt if they have sufficient proof that the statements in question are true.

CWOTUS's avatar

You should also check with an attorney before you release your recordings. Whether true or not, some states have laws against the recording of a person’s image and / or voice without his prior consent or release and without a court order. In other words, your mother may have been “guilty” of a crime prior to her death by creating the recordings, and you may be guilty yourself if you release them.

Consider also, regardless of the legality of the recordings, your father is a lot older and meaner than you are, and he has been playing these games far longer than you’ve even been alive. Despite your conviction in the rightness of your cause, are you certain that you want to take him on as a lifelong bitter enemy, should you release the recordings? If he’s as vicious as you portray him, consider that he may have friends and associates and resources you don’t even know about, and he might release them against you, too.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@CWOTUS As stated before, it is 100% legal in the state of NY to record someone without their informed consent. And my mother was completely within her rights per the law.

My father doesn’t have friends and he’ll never find me. He’s alienated all of his resources and everyone who mutually knows us is completely on my side.

I’ll get a restraining order if necessary.

muhammajelly's avatar

@LeavesNoTrace Actually even if it is all true it may still be defamation if it paints a one-sided picture. A quote taken out of context might be “true” but certainly defamation has taken place if you fail to disclose a meaningful quote context. People might also hold it against you forever that you didn’t handle private family business within the family. I wouldn’t invite someone into my circle that wanted to handle private problems publicly even when they were in the right. Since it doesn’t mean anything to them to be in the private circle why not simply keep them in the public circle?

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@muhammajelly It’s hours of recordings, unedited. There’s no way anything he says could be ‘taken out of context’ so that would be thrown out of the window. Trust me, if you heard the way he acted you would agree too.

I don’t plan to publish it publicly but just to show it to people within the family and his girlfriend who might unknowingly be dating an abuser. I’ve decided against showing it to his colleagues since it won’t be productive but I want our family to know EXACTLY why my siblings feel the way we did and what my mother had to endure for 25 years of marriage.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Sounds to me like he’ll kill you.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@Dutchess_III He wouldn’t dare. Everyone would know exactly who to look for if I ever went missing and/or dead.

Plus I’m out of the country now and he has no idea where I live or where I’ll be living when I return.

Dutchess_III's avatar

That’s good @LeavesNoTrace. Thing is, people murder other people in fits of rage…they aren’t thinking about the consequences.

muhammajelly's avatar

@LeavesNoTrace There is no potential punishment which would prevent me from murdering someone. In Japan people expect to be caught but still choose to anyway. The reason to murder someone isn’t because of the good things you get out of it. Anyone who said “see, it didn’t work out for you” just doesn’t understand. As proof I would point to suicide bombers. Did they do it thinking they would avoid punishment or receive gain? Maybe some dumb gang members believe they will get something out of it or get away with it but not parents killing their children.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

@LeavesNoTrace I understand the predicament. I believe you should send a polite snail mail response. I know in the wake of grief you are so angry and you have every right to be, but at the same time directing that anger at him will only work against you. Unfortunatley, your mother was not able to make a will and for this there is nothing that can now be done. If he chooses to keep the money, there is nothing you can do. If I was you, I would treat yourself which to me would mean more than monetary gain and by that I mean by choosing the higher road to salvation & to not let this nasty fool and his actions rule your life anymore!

Good luck with this sweetheart, and remember if he gives the money after it is gone, you will still have memories of your mother, but he will always be able to hold it over your head, is it worth it?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Seems to me the recordings could act as a will….?

Response moderated (Spam)
LeavesNoTrace's avatar

I sent an email to my father and he’s denying ever telling me he would give me anything. He brought up the confrontation I refer to here http://www.fluther.com/153459/how-can-i-protect-my-terminally-ill-mom-from-my-rageaholic/ and refers to it as my “outburst”.

Apparently Mr. Abusive Victim-Blamer himself is looking for me to grovel and apologize for being such a ‘bad girl’ and not allowing him to emotionally batter my defenseless mother with his endless fits of rage.

It would be a lapse of integrity and a dishonor to my mother to apologize for this. To apologize to him is to enable an abuser and that is something I cannot do in good conscience when I know I did the right thing by defending her.

There’s a lawyer in my hometown who (like many people) hates my father. I’m considering giving him a call because I know he would love a piece of this. Like @Dutchess_III said, I’m going to listen to the recordings again (I haven’t been able to bear listening to much of them) and see if my Mom makes any reference to her will/life insurance.

I’m going to be smart about this, but it’s apparent I can’t play this alone. I may even be able to get him for the years of abuse and emotional distress?

Another dilemma: I’m flat broke and my student loans are cosigned by him.

CWOTUS's avatar

This is going to consume your life if you let it.

It’s one of the ways that bitter and angry people become that way, when they can’t ignore / forget / forgive for the bitterness and anger of what has been done to them. You should think about that.

Good luck to you.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@CWOTUS I feel like I need to see this through. I can’t let him be rewarded for his bad behavior. He’s the worst person I’ve ever known. Doing nothing and letting him win seems more toxic than anything.

marmoset's avatar

I’m sorry you’re going through this. When I had to send an email communication that needed to be proven-delivery I used a registered email service (I used rpost – not sure if that is still the best option today because I haven’t needed this in a while, but check it out)

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

Oh, you just mentioned your student loans are cosigned by him??? Well dear there is your payment! Don’t go to the lawyer. Just dont pay the loan back. It will go back to him. When and if he decides to bring you to court because you screwed his credit, bring all your evidence, everything you have now. And make sure you tell the judge you would of payed the loan with the money your mother wanted you to have, money he denied you, so you had no other choice, he traumatized you too much. If I was you I would’nt pay back the student loan..oh oops, did I forget that you cosigned?

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@nofurbelowsbatgirl I called Sallie Mae today and the small private student loan I had with them (About 6K) was cosigned actually by my mom. I forgot my Dad was too cheap to sign a loan for me back then. eyeroll The woman on the phone said that if it defaults they could go after my Mom’s estate for the 6K. Hmmm…

I have another 31K with the Dept of Education and I called them as well. They weren’t able to pull up my account and told me to call back in a couple of weeks (WTF???) BUT she was able to offer a nice tidbit of information—if I produce a death certificate (and I will) they might be able to forgive the entire loan. But I’m having a hard time remembering/figuring out if the loan would qualify without professional help. It’s a DL Consolidated Unsubsidized Loan.

What should I do? I may post another question dedicated to this.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

@LeavesNoTrace Yes in many instances they will forgive the loan if it was signed by your mother. But here is the kicker, since he wants to be an ass and take everything over including the estate that also means he takes over your mothers debts. He gets everything, that is what the money is for, if your mother has debts it is the first thing he should do with any money left over is take care of all debts, & technically if she cosigned then the debt is hers so he should pay for it, at least I think thats how it is. He is not just supposed to take that money from your mothers estate and blow it on whatever he feels certain things need to be paid off first and debts are one of those things on the top of the list, after funeral expenses.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@nofurbelowsbatgirl That is great news. I’m going to call the loansharks again tomorrow to see if I can squeeze more information from them.

My feeling is this, they want that money any way they can get it, regardless of how. The easiest way would be to go after my mother’s estate and shake him down.

This would be a much better deal than the 5K originally promised to me and would also fulfill some of my need for recourse with this situation.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

This might be helpful

And this may be very helpful.

Just remember, nasty, greedy people usually pay in the end, some way or another.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@LeavesNoTrace If your name is also on these student loans, it will also reflect on your credit. As much as you want to punish him, you still have to protect yourself. What would your mother say to you about all of this? Would she tell you to take your dad on full force or would she tell you to move on with your life? I really do understand where you are coming from and I wish you the best. Good luck with whatever path you take. Please be sure to speak with a lawyer before you do anything so that you can protect yourself.

Kat555's avatar

Look into the law of defamation in your state. I am pretty sure the ‘truth’ factor alone matters a lot. I once did a media law course at uni and i remember in most cases you get away with the truth factor alone.

P.S. what a story. Karma will sort him out.

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