A word of warning: If you receive an e-mail message that’s bad-mouthing someone, be careful what you add if you decide to pass it on.
A Santa Ana appeal court on Thursday ruled that individuals can’t be sued for forwarding a defamatory message unless they “materially contribute” to the item.
In Phan v. Pham, Lang Van Pham, a veteran of the Merchant Marine in Vietnam, forwarded a message from the group’s president that accused another man, Hung Tan Phan, of having been disciplined by the Navy for abusive behavior in the last days of the Vietnam War. Phan sued Pham.
Pham got off because the appeal court found he hadn’t added much to the forwarded message.
“His original language,” the court held, “said, in essence: Look at this and ‘Everything will come out in the daylight.’ All he said was: The truth will come out in the end. What will be will be. Whatever.”
“Nothing ‘created’ by defendant Pham was itself defamatory.”
So, be short and sweet. Not long and mean.