I was not long out of the DA's office from a position as a state prosecutor. Fresh back in private practice those decades ago, no big cases were lining up at the door just yet. So I had to make the most of what I had.
A young mechanic from Red Springs NC came to me after being slandered in the local grocery store. He and his wife were checking out of the food store one Friday night with two full baskets of groceries. My client had a wad of bills to pay for the merchandise and he and his wife were regular shoppers in the store.
Still, the manager accosted my clients in the check-out line and accused the local mechanic of stealing six doughnuts. My client protested. He showed the money he had to buy all the merchandise. He then pulled out the lining of the pocket in his full length leather coat where the manager claimed he had concealed the donoughts. No doughnuts. Still the manager accused him, standing right in the front of the store in front of many citizens of Red Springs who knew him. The manager never asked my client to step to the back of the store or into a private office so they could talk about it. The manager never tried to place a six pack of donoughts in his coat pocket to see if the white carton would stick up above the coat pocket, clearly visible. We did just that at trial and the jury laughed at the manager when they saw the doughnut package protruding at least 4 inches over his coat pocket in plain view. Shoplifting is concealing merchandise inside the store. Nothing had been concealed and my client had not left the store when confronted by the insulting manager.
The accusations damaged my client's business since a mechanic must rely on his integrity as well as his skill in a small town. My client proved by his tax return that his business got bad for a time after this indicent, likely because of all the uncomplementary talk.
But the talk chaged drastically in his favor and his business returned. The jury awarded him $ 150,000.00 for his loss, $ 50,000.00 for the lost business due to the slander and $ 100,000.00 for punitive damages for the malicious manner in which the manager falsely accused him and the store refused to apologize.
Sticks and stones can break your bones, but the law says that words can hurt you, too. When they do, get just compensation.
Lumberton NC lawyer Woodyberry Bowen tries slander and libel cases.