“The SLAPPs lawsuits cost me too much even if I am insured”
Giorgio Santoriello, blogger and environmentalist, talks about his experience: 60,000 euro spent on lawyers and he still has 10 trials for defamation in progress
OSSIGENO 14 April 2023 – by Giorgio Santoriello – In the course of my activity as a blogger, activist, defender of the environment and legal representative of the voluntary association Cova Contro, from 2013 to today, I have documented and publicly denounced various environmental crimes committed in Basilicata, the Italian region where I live. I have also identified several individuals responsible for omitted checks on these crimes. For this I have been repeatedly sued for libel. Entrepreneurs, politicians, and journalists have sued me without ever asking me for a correction or providing an alternative view. A lawsuit and the request for damages is the automatic response every time some issues are addressed. So far, I have only received a 4-month prison sentence. For the rest I have always been acquitted.
I am also concerned about the expense involved in going through these trials. To date I have burdened myself with 60,000 euro in legal defence expenses. The insurance companies I contacted cover only a part of the expenses. I still have 10 pending trials and I have noticed that defamation charges against me have been treated more severely over the past few years.
Some of the 10 pending libel cases await the first-instance ruling. Others await the outcome of investigations that have been extended and are still on-going.
Ossigeno per l’Informazione and Media Defence have always been by my side and I thank them for their support.
Libel lawsuits bring worry and anguish; and considerable expenses, too. To bear them, I took out some insurance policies which helped me. But not always. In some cases, the companies have withdrawn from my case.
The first insurance company I contacted, to which I paid the premium for six years, unilaterally terminated the contract because it systematically had to spend more than I had paid in premiums. I currently have two policies, both general liability and legal expenses. But even these do not solve the problem. They do not cover various situations which I will try to list. For example:
1 – if I receive a claim for damages only in civil proceedings, I am not covered, not even for the costs of any mediation;
2 – if the statute of limitations is triggered and the trial ends like this, without a conviction, it is a boon for me because it saves me from further judicial debates to defend myself against unfounded accusations. But the insurance companies do not consider statute of limitations an acquittal and therefore do not cover the expenses I incurred for the legal defence. Maybe my lawyer had to go to the hearing several times for eight years, had to study the documents and carry out other activities. Well, those costs are not covered by the insurance;
3 – on the other hand, if the case ends with an outcome in my favour, with dismissal or acquittal, my lawyer will receive his fee, within 90 days of the end of the proceeding. Since these disputes can last up to five years or more, it obviously penalizes our lawyers.
In short, even by purchasing these insurance policies, various problems remain. I have the impression that insurers tend not to attach much importance to legal protection in libel proceedings. It seems to me that they treat them with equivocalness and superficiality.
In Italy there are no sanctions for those who use the justice system for intimidation purposes. Thus, not even the insurance companies have instruments of recourse against the opposite party. Thus, absurdly, if you are an insured who always wins in court, sooner or later your insurance company will leave you, because you force them to spend thousands of euro in legal fees against premiums of a few hundred euros.
It is really worrying. We bloggers, activists, freelancers, reporters without robust publishers behind us, run the risk of no longer having insurance companies willing to cover us.
Ossigeno is right to fill some of these gaps. Two years ago, it already provided me with a first gratuity for legal fees, and I hope to obtain others. But we cannot rely solely on Ossigeno. To defend freedom of the press, it is necessary to modify the laws on defamation to guarantee a wider freedom of expression and sanction the intimidating and retaliatory use of lawsuits. We must press the Italian Parliament to do this and to decriminalize libel.
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