Blogger being sued

April 15th, 2011 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Andrea Vance at Stuff reports:

ACC Minister Nick Smith has asked for an urgent report after it emerged that a senior ACC doctor is suing a sexual abuse victim for $250,000.

The woman, who blogs under the name , says she was denied counselling for sexual abuse, and posted comments about Sensitive Claims Unit senior medical adviser on a website. …

Ms Sepuloni asked Health Minister Tony Ryall, who was standing in for Dr Smith, if the ACC minister would investigate.

“Does he think fair treatment includes a senior medical adviser at ACC, Dr Peter Jansen, suing an ACC claimant, a victim of sexual abuse, for $250,000 for speaking her mind on a blog about the appalling treatment of sexual abuse victims under his watch?” she asked.

Jax says her blog has only 15 followers. “So let me see if I get this straight … a blog of 15 followers has done more than $250,000 worth of damage to a man who has never granted a single woman seeking compensation for sexual abuse a mere percentage of that amount?”

I don’t know how many followers Jax has, but what she may be over-looking is that if you google “Peter Jansen”, her blog comes up high on the first page of results. This means anyone searching for info on him, will probably see her blog.

I also note that Jax has blogged many many times or Dr Jansen. One of her comments is:

I am not stupid or dumb. Dr Peter Jansen who implemented these “INHUMANE” changes is hoping if he makes things too damn hard we’ll either go away or kill ourselves like two people I know already …

Accusing someone of hoping that claimants will kill themselves is pretty highly defamatory (in my opinion) unless one can prove it to be true. Some of her other comments are as bad.

Jax has every right to rail against ACC. But she would be better to attack the organisation, not individuals within it. It is not totally surprising that Dr Jansen has responded with a lawsuit.

While the lawsuit is not surprising, it is ill-advised in my opinion. The publicity from the lawsuit will result in many many more people knowing about the comments, potentially increasing the damage to Dr Jansen.

Also Dr Jansen may have overlooked that people are quite good at putting things into context. I doubt many NZers would jump to a conclusion about Dr Jansen, just because of the criticisms made by Jax on her blog. It’s not the Lancet. It’s one disaffected person’s opinion.

If I sued for every defamatory comment made about me online, I’d be in court at least once a week.

A possible compromise here might be that Jax refers to Dr Jansen only by title (removing her blog from google searches on his name) and he drops the lawsuit. I don’t know either of them, and they don’t know me, so I doubt my 2c of opinion is of any consequence. if it does go to court, it will at least be an interesting court case.

UPDATE: Dr Jansen has issued a statement:

“It is my belief, supported by independent legal advice, that I have been defamed. All that I am seeking is for the offending comments to be withdrawn and for a public apology to be issued. Money has never been an issue, this is about my professional reputation. If that redress is provided, I will of course halt the legal action that I have initiated as a private citizen.”

Dr Jansen also categorically denies the accusation made by Carmel Sepuloni MP in the House yesterday that he “accessed private information about a victim of sexual abuse and used it to initiate legal action”. He has asked the Chief Executive of ACC to initiate a review of the Corporation’s records to confirm this.

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31 Responses to “Blogger being sued”

  1. Murray (8,845 comments) says:

    Having been the victim of something bad does not make you imune to the law.

    why is that so hard for people to get their heads around?

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  2. slightlyright (93 comments) says:

    I don’t think anything has been withdrawn, I think his lawyer was slack and didn’t realize that under the defamation act 1992, the blog would likely be classed as a “news medium” and accordingly the statement of claim in specifying quantum the way it has is a clear breach of s43 of the Defamation Act and the claim would likely have been struck out!

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  3. Pete George (23,437 comments) says:

    It may not be a smart move from Dr Jansen, but it highlights some major non-smartness from the blogger – if it points out the dangers of “mouthing off” on a public forum that may be recorded permanently it might do someone some good. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

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  4. ben (2,375 comments) says:

    I have to say I think defamation is an exceptionally unsafe concept. It requires the court to make a decision about the dollar value of harm done to a person’s reputation. Think about that. First, the court must guess at how many have seen or heard the comment. Second, it must guess what weight in aggregate people put on the comment, which must rely on many things – accuracy of transmission, context (the standing of the person saying it, completeness of the story). Third, the court must guess what effect lower standing will have on the complainant. To what extent is their income and prestige lowered? If the complainant’s standing is lowered in the eyes of someone who will never interact with that person directly or indirectly, there can be no harm. Fourth, it must take take its guess of harm and convert that to a dollar amount. Fifth, there is the question of whether the defendant can pay whatever amount is arrived at. Six, defamation, being an opaque concept, is extremely expensive to prosecute to everyone.

    And finally – the alternative is that, absent defamation laws, people will not go crazy and defame everyone else, because without cause the defamer harms himself in the process. His standing is lowered when he is wrong, and his victim can show this.

    Defamation law is extraordinarily costly in every sense: a tax on free speech, it rewards power, it consumes the time and effort of many talented people, and it saves us from little or nothing.

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  5. ben (2,375 comments) says:

    David, isn’t defamation technically done by the publisher, not the author? If so, isn’t Dr Jansen’s suit misdirected? Shouldn’t he be suing the blog software owner, rather than the author?

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  6. dime (9,805 comments) says:

    heard on zb this morning shes removing his name from the blog and hes dropping the suit.. so he got the desired outcome

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  7. dime (9,805 comments) says:

    correction – looks like shes feeling empowered after media attention, she wont take the comments down.

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  8. beautox (420 comments) says:

    I’m not making light of her problems, but I fail to see how sexual abuse is an accident. So why is it covered by ACC?

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  9. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    Bullshit “hes got the result he desired”

    By going down this track hes now widely known as a medical doctor who might be mixing politics with medicine – i think hes done himself more harm than he realises.

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  10. ben (2,375 comments) says:

    Beautox: I believe the answer is: because sexual abuse victims have political clout, and ACC is how the government buys them off. This is one reason why government should not be anywhere near the coal face of insurance.

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  11. Chris2 (761 comments) says:

    According to her blog, the woman applied to ACC in January 2009 to “restart” counselling for sexual abuse and that seven months later she was still waiting for a reply from ACC.

    My observation is this: If the woman had gone without counselling for this long, and today more than two years later, still hasn’t received it (and presumably she chose not to go “private” and pay for it herself), then does she really need ACC-funded counselling at all ??

    This whole “counselling” industry is an out of control gravy train. It seems this woman is like so many other people – she only requires counselling when someone else is paying for it. If it was so essential for her mental well-being she would have gone out and paid for own counselling by now.

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  12. alex Masterley (1,507 comments) says:

    According to the reports this woman has had a decade of counselling.
    Thats my ACC premiums at work. Thats why ACC is the bloated monster it is. As Chris says a gravy train.

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  13. peterwn (3,239 comments) says:

    There is a problem – when someone is upset about something he/she often go screaming off to a lawyer to seek a remedy. The lawyer will suggest a legal remedy (since a lawyer understands this) rather than finding a holistic remedy.

    The best remedy to this sort of problem was adopted by the former chairman of National Airways Corporation (now part of air NZ). NAC came in for flac for its Aeroflot tendencies such as having to walk across the tarmac to a 737, long delays in unloading baggage at Wellington, and cheese wrappers that were almost impossible to open.

    Anyway Bib Jones once proclaimed that NAC hostesses were ‘ugly’. NAC could not let this go unchallenged and its chairman responded that there was nothing wrong with being called ‘ugly’ by a toad. Honour was restored all round.

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  14. Nick R (506 comments) says:

    @ slightlyrighty – Even if a blog is a news medium for the purposes of the Defamation Act (which is debateable), it doesn’t follow that the High Court would strike the proceeding out for failure to comply with s 43. Proceedings are only struck out if they are incurably bad and cannot be fixed by amending the pleadings. In this case you could simply amend the pleading by changing the prayer for relief (I love legal terminology) to read “an award of in such amount as the Court may determine” or similar.

    The better approach in cases like this is not to seek damages at all. Under section 24 you can seek a declaration from the Court (stating that you have been defamed) instead of damages – the sting being that if you get the declaration, you can also get costs on an indemnity basis. That way you can say it is just a matter of principle, I am not doing for the money, etc.

    @ Ben – The publisher is anyone who makes the defamatory statement available to be read by a person other than the author and the person about whom the statement is made. In cases like this it can be a worryingly long list. It includes the author (who posted the blog in the first place), the blog site host (at least once the matter has been drawn to their attention so that they can no longer rely on the defence of innocent dissemination), and anyone who posts a link to the site, or who adopts or repeats the original statement. That can be done without repeating the original allegation verbatim (eg, “I have read what X said, and I agree with it).

    DPF is right in that if everyone sued every time they were technically defamed, the Courts would do very little else. Fortunately most people have better things to do with their time and money.

    And Murray – damned right.

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  15. Chris2 (761 comments) says:

    Just read more of her blog and she strikes me as really nasty piece of work.

    An anonymous poster writes about her lack of tact, honesty and diplomacy and she responds with an expletive-laden reply, that ends with calling the poster a “kiddy fiddler”.

    This is one sick woman.

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  16. TripeWryter (715 comments) says:

    Well, I’ll say this:

    Carmel Sepuloni did one of the best hits on Tony Ryall I’ve seen in a long time. Suddenly Question Time was interesting.

    Ryall has barely had to work up a sweat over the last two years in the House. Ruth Dyson never managed to get past his faux sanctimony, and in the end she began to look foolish.

    But Sepuloni rattled Ryall yesterday. You could see it in his beetled eyebrows and Menacing Stare through his glasses.

    It was also clear then, that once Nick Smith heard about Jansen’s suit it would be off … or Jansen would be gone from ACC.

    As for Jax … I’ve just had a look at her blog. It seems she has discovered that the internet has given people who previously felt powerless some power. They can put their thoughts — resentful and rambling as they might be — into a limitless public arena.

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  17. TripeWryter (715 comments) says:

    Another thing, too: if Dr Jansen had not started his action, who would have known about Jax and her blog?

    Presumably, justices of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and High Court don’t sue Vince Siemer for the same reason.

    Suits draw attention to things. It connotes Taking Things Seriously. It gives the target and his/her grievances oxygen.

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  18. scrubone (3,092 comments) says:

    TripeWryter: Dr Jansen *had* started his action and no one knew about it till it was bought up in parliament. But anyone who googled his name would be able to read the deformation.

    And it’s “her”.

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  19. KH (694 comments) says:

    She threw allegations around of a quite personal abusive manner. Although that might not be the end of the world in itself — if she gets into that game why does she complain when somebody comes back at her. I have no sympathy with her at all. This story – if there is a story – should be about her – not the ACC guy. She comes up wanting. (pun intended)

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  20. TripeWryter (715 comments) says:

    Scrubone: your first sentence illustrates my point, but differently.

    I bet more people have Googled his name his name since about 2.45pm yesterday, when Carmel Sepuloni launched her questions.

    ‘Her': my his/her was not referring specifically about Jax. It was general.

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  21. lofty (1,310 comments) says:

    Oh dear.. I have just had a wee look at her blog.
    She just loves to spray vitriol about.

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  22. big bruv (13,689 comments) says:

    Interesting..

    On Radio live this morning the ex husband of this female has added another side to the story, according to the ex husband this female has a long history of drinking problems and makes a habit of falsely accusing people of sexual assault.

    The ex husband is of the opinion that she is a bludger who is simply looking for money from the tax payer/ACC.

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  23. lofty (1,310 comments) says:

    Not surprised BB, she comes across as almost a “professional victim”

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  24. TripeWryter (715 comments) says:

    I’d be careful of making judgments about her based of her ex’s comments.

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  25. KH (694 comments) says:

    Has this story about the abusive blog started to reach the stage where Ms Sepuloni MP may have scored an own goal? Interesting to see how the factual situation plays out. Initial parliament question time might have only revealed half of it.

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  26. V (694 comments) says:

    @KH
    Wouldn’t be the first time.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8Zxo0MlibI

    Tony Ryall was quite right to answer the way he did, given the grandstanding nature of the questioner.

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  27. KH (694 comments) says:

    Just viewed that clip which V attached at 4.15pm above.
    Tony Ryall answered perfectly and correctly.
    Carmel Sepuloni MP was grandstanding certainly and not behaving as I would expect of one our representatives. Specifically she misrepresented the facts, as we now know them, and lied by the means of only telling some of the story.
    One sided information such as this degrades the process of the house. It just does not help anything.
    Hopefully she will be apologising in due course.

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  28. bustedblonde (138 comments) says:

    what i dont get , and im not going to link – is that in her blog – if you look hard enough, she has outed herself.. Which is very odd as she claims to be in hiding as part of some sort of court case.
    Im not passing judgement either way but the internet may be a haystack but if there is a needle in it you can find it.

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  29. Pete George (23,437 comments) says:

    Sepuloni is the one who has highlighted the needle,

    Ms Sepuloni asked Health Minister Tony Ryall, who was standing in for Dr Smith, if the ACC minister would investigate.

    “Does he think fair treatment includes a senior medical adviser at ACC, Dr Peter Jansen, suing an ACC claimant, a victim of sexual abuse, for $250,000 for speaking her mind on a blog about the appalling treatment of sexual abuse victims under his watch?” she asked.

    She has obviously chosen a side and either had approval from the blogger or decided herself to publicise it.

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  30. anticorruptionnz (212 comments) says:

    There is of course the aspect that if she is penny less then there is no point in suing her, any one with no assets can get away with saying whatever they like because you can’t get blood out of a stone.
    On the other hand if you have assets and speak the truth they will you do like a dogs dinner. I know that for a fact. I am a whistleblower on corruption I questioned the lack of existence of the animal welfare institute of New Zealand a Private law enforcement authority which had no existence beyond the impressive sounding name .
    turns out that it is the tip of the ice berg of corruption in waitakere city ..
    They have managed to keep me in courts for 5 years and cost several hundred dollars..
    If you blog don’t have assets. http://anticorruptionnz.wordpress.com/

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  31. David Cairns (5 comments) says:

    I think Dr Jansen came to his senses in the end. Many people seem to neglect to understand the impact of publishing online.

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