Lawsuits are public documents. Anyone, including reporters, can go to court and look through the filings of civil lawsuits. One may discover that you’ve been sued and publish a story. The opposing attorney or other party may also issue a press release when the lawsuit was filed or afterwards. Depending on the nature of your business, the chances are pretty slim you’ll be involved in a blockbuster lawsuit that will lead the local TV news. But that doesn’t mean publicity won’t have an impact.
Given just about everyone has internet access and can read and watch an almost infinite number of media outlets, news of your lawsuit may get out. The news may be very local or spread among those in your industry, your partners and suppliers.
Depending on who’s alleging what, it may impact you and it may be worth spending some resources on public relations to maintain your reputation in your community and among your peers, clients and potential clients. You may have spent a lot of time energy and money developing your brand and reputation. You don’t want that to go up in flames because of a lawsuit. But, also depending on the circumstances, the best thing you may do is keep your mouth shut and limit the material that may be published.
Unless your business is public relations, if you think there are issues that need to be discussed publicly hire a public relations professional. Being sued and doing public relations poorly is a bad combination. If there’ll be any public relations efforts I need to review them. Whatever you publicly announce could be used by the opposing party. You don’t want to state one thing in a press release and something different in an affidavit or court filing.
Though you may not think of it as “public relations” if your company actively blogs or posts on social media, anything having to do with the subject of the lawsuit should be avoided. Like press releases or press conferences, anything that’s stated could potentially be used by the opposing party.
The legal action may make you very angry. The allegations may be very damaging and false. Publicly ripping apart the opposing party is not a good idea. Losing control, showing anger and losing your composure is not the public image you want to portray. You also may state something that could be perceived as libelous and the other party may amend its complaint to add that charge. It’s my job to rip apart the lawsuit and we can do that professionally, within the confines of the courthouse.
If the case has gotten some publicity and settles, among the many things that needs to be negotiated is how the parties will discuss it. What the parties say, when, needs to be worked out. There will also probably be some kind of non-disparagement or non-disclosure agreement that will limit what the parties can say about each other, and the lawsuit, after the settlement.
If the case is resolved after a verdict, public relations could help you spread the good news or try to limit the damage done by a decision against you. This is also not a time to be angry or gloat because if your temper flares and your loose lips produce harmful words, you may get sued again.
If you have any questions about the litigation process or the role of publicity when engaged in a legal dispute, contact our office so we can talk about your situation, answer your questions and discuss how we can help.