When a defamatory statement is republished by another person, that person may be held liable to the same extent as the original defamer. I recently wrote about liability for rumor-mongering and focused on the potential liability of the person spreading rumors heard from another source. This month, I want to focus on the potential liability of the source of the defamatory statement, particularly when the statement is made to another under circumstances that make it highly likely the defamatory statement will be shared with a larger audience.
The general rule in Virginia is that the original publisher of a defamatory statement will be liable for republication if repetition of the statement was foreseeable as the natural and probable consequence of the original publication:
It is well settled that the author or originator of a defamation is liable for a republication or repetition thereof by third persons, provided it is the natural and probable consequence of his act, or he has presumptively or actually authorized or directed its republication. This is based upon the principle that such republication constitutes a new cause of action against the original author. However, the original author is not responsible if the republication or repetition is not the natural and probable consequence of his act, but is the independent and unauthorized act of a third party.
Weaver v. Beneficial Fin. Co., 199 Va. 196, 199 (1957).