By J. DeVoy
At Elliott.org, the story of a travel insurance company’s SLAPP suit against the blog’s writer, Christopher Elliott, rises from the murk and into daylight. In March of 2009, Elliott reported that Florida regulators had warned three travel insurance agencies, all of which were offering policies from bankrupt Prime Travel Protection Services, that their conduct may violate state law.
Elliott quoted statements made by a spokeswoman for Florida’s Department of Financial Services, indicating the state ordered the insurance agencies to stop selling unauthorized policies, and that further activity was pending. This was clarified in a subsequent press release from the state of Florida:
As a result of ongoing investigations into complaints about the sale of unauthorized travel insurance in Florida, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has notified three travel agencies that she intends to order them to stop selling insurance.
This clarification was immediately noted on Elliott’s blog.
This would seem like important, newsworthy information to publicize — unless you’re Palm Coast Travel. While some businesses would have tried to resolve the issue as quickly and quietly as possible, Palm Coast Travel brought suit against one of its customers, Peter Lay, and Elliott, filing this complaint.
Elliot provided this excerpt of the complaint on his blog:
Elliott included among his reporting recent regulatory investigations of customer complaints regarding Prime Travel Protection and Jerry Watson. Elliott’s reporting included publication of false information regarding Palm Coast, which has and will continue to damage Palm Coast’s business unless it is properly remedied.
Among the statements Elliott published were falsehoods that stated that Palm Coast had been ordered to cease doing business by the State of Florida. No such order exists, and therefore that report was false.
Further, Elliott, when purporting to “clarify” his deliberately false statement regarding the State of Florida’s investigation of travel insurance, did not fully remedy the false impression he fostered regarding Palm Coast’s role.
Elliott’s falsehoods were directed at, among other aspects of Palm Coast’s business, its reputation in the trade or industry of travel. Moreover, Elliott did not properly correct, clarify, or retract his falsehoods, despite proper notice.
In developing situations, facts get garbled and details are lost. On Setpember 11, 2001, there were repeated claims that a bomb had gone off at the State Department that later turned out to be false. Here, Elliott reported the information he had, when he had it, and clarified the State’s statements once more facts were available.
These kinds of actions threaten to shoot the messenger, and shoot him or her dead. Where an apology or clarification would have been sufficient, a lawsuit has been filed, and with the hope that Elliott will never engage in this kind of speech again.
The Citizen Participation Act, a bill that will introduce new punishments against these kinds of SLAPP cases, reward defendants who are wrongly sued, and ensure that only constitutionally protected speech is preserved, has been introduced to Congress. Send a letter to your representative supporting this bill today.