The Edmond Sun

August 30, 2013

ASK A LAWYER: Tortious interference means ‘post with care’ in digital age

By Matt Hopkins
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly series of columns written by attorneys at Lester, Loving & Davies Law Firm in Edmond.



Q: Why should we care about tortious interference?

A:
Last week, we discussed tortious interference. The cause of action arises when one party maliciously and without justification interferes with another party’s business in a way that causes loss of a specific property interest or anticipated profit. The action is fairly rare, and rarely successful. So why should we care about it?

Tortious interference lawsuits often involve attempts by a company to take business away from a competitor. This may involve hiring an employee away from a competitor and putting him to work soliciting business from his former clients. If the former employer does not appreciate this, he may sue for tortious interference. Recovery may be difficult, but the parties who are sued will spend significant resources even if they win.

But, again, so what? Not many of us are likely to find ourselves in the middle of corporate espionage. Still, you should know that the cause of action exists so that you don’t walk into a lawsuit unintentionally. Here’s why: Technology is changing our world faster than the legal system can keep up. Facts change quicker than laws. And in this area, facts are sprinting.

We recently discovered that our 8-year-old daughter taught herself how to hack into our home electronic systems from anywhere in the world using her Kindle Fire®. With this device, she can record television shows, close garage doors, change the thermostats and even let the dogs out. And I just wanted her to read. At the same time, our teenagers are tweeting and twixting and thaxting. I don’t know what any of that is, or even if it exists. But I know this. If “thaxting” doesn’t exist today, it soon will.

We communicate now in ways that most of us do not understand. And when we push the “post” button (or the part of the glass screen that looks like a “post” button), we lose control of who sees our message. A well-intentioned and true private message urging friends to never hire an electrician because he did you wrong, could — when the law catches up with technology — become the basis of a lawsuit against you for defamation or tortious interference. You likely would win that suit by today’s legal standards. But how courts will define the cause of action in light of rapidly changing technology and norms of communication is unknown. Post with care.



MATT HOPKINS is an attorney for Lester, Loving & Davies P.C. More information is available at lldlaw.com. Send questions to questions@lldlaw.com.