Although many people feel that they may have a greater degree of freedom on the Internet due to its anonymous nature, virtually anything posted online can be traced back to the original IP address which was used to upload the content. That IP address can often be used to identify the individual who created the post.
A lawyer recently won a defamation lawsuit against a former client over this very issue. The attorney, Jan Hinson, alleged that her client, Vivek Pampattiwar, lied to her when she asked if a divorce action was pending. Pampattiwar allegedly said that his wife had not filed a counterclaim for divorce in his maintenance action in a separate county, despite the fact that he knew otherwise. Pampattiwar also allegedly failed to inform Hinson that she was the sixth attorney to represent him in the litigation with his wife.
Hinson allegedly checked an online docket to verify that no counterclaim had been filed before she filed a divorce action on behalf of Pampattiwar in Gwinnett County. The online docket, though, was incorrect. Pampattiwar had brought documents to the consultation with Hinson that allegedly showed that counterclaims had, in fact, been filed, but Hinson never read those documents. When Hinson discovered the counterclaims, she dismissed the divorce suit, but then she took over representation for Pampattiwar in another litigation after his lawyer withdrew from the case.
Pampattiwar allegedly resisted dismissing the divorce that Hinson had filed based on misinformation, indicated that he would pay more to have the case litigated in Gwinnett County, and took documents from her office to try to impede the dismissal of the divorce. Hinson later sought to withdraw from the representation and her motion was granted. However, Pampattiwar allegedly begged Hinson to represent him during arbitration until Hinson agreed. Then in October, Hinson allegedly contacted the law firm because he was upset about his legal bills. The complaint which Hinson filed against him alleges that Pampattiwar told a paralegal that Hinson and her staff were crooks.
The very next month, Hinson noticed a sudden significant drop in business. According to her complaint, the phones of her law office “stopped ringing”. Her staff discovered negative reviews of the law firm on Kudzu.com which called her “a CROOK Lawyer” and an “Extremely Fraudulent Lady”. The reviews were traced to an IP address which was associated with Pampattiwar.
During his testimony in the trial, Pampattiwar denied that he had failed to notify Hinson of the counterclaims in the divorce and denied posting the negative reviews of her law practice. The court ruled in Hinson’s favor, with a jury award of around $400,000, and Pampattiwar appealed the decision. In the appellate court, Pampattiwar argued that Hinson should not have relied exclusively on the online docket.
The appellate court upheld the lower court’s ruling. Reginald Greene, representing Pampattiwar in the defamation lawsuit, called the award “improper and excessive”.
Hinson has said that her screening process for taking on new clients has become more stringent as a result of her experiences with Pampattiwar.