Sunday, 23 December 2012

Lance Armstrong and what constitutes fraud

ESPN reports that Britain's Sunday Times has sued Lance Armstrong, seeking to recover more than 1 million pounds (more than $ 1.6 million) that the paper paid to Armstrong to settle a prior defamation action that Armstrong brought against the paper for repeating allegations that Armstrong doped. The theory is that Armstrong initiated "baseless and fraudulent" proceedings by alleging that doping allegations were false and insisting in settlement negotiations that he had never doped.

UK law is obviously quite different than US law. Still, I cannot imagine this suit can work. By bringing the suit, Armstrong simply put the paper to its burden of proving its allegations were true (a key difference between UK and US defamation law, where the plaintiff must prove falsehood). He was free to deny the truth of those allegations, both in bringing the suit and engaging in settlement negotiations.

Given my First Amendment views, I am no fan of British defamation law or of worthless defamation suits that are designed to intimidate the press. But the notion that such suits, and their settlement, constitute actionable fraud seems equally wrong.

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