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On Wednesday, the Michigan Supreme Court issued an order that reinstated a $300,000 verdict in favor of a plaintiff who was defamed by her pastor. The complicated case stems from a 2002 incident in which Judith Dadd was injured after falling at Mount Hope Church in Lansing, Michigan. Dadd subsequently filed a lawsuit alleging negligence and gross negligence against the church.

After the lawsuit was filed, the church’s pastor, David Williams, spoke out against Dadd and her lawsuit in disparaging terms, denouncing her from the pulpit in front of other church members. Williams accused Dadd of insurance fraud and claimed that she had renounced her beliefs. Dadd then amended her complaint to add counts for libel, slander, and false light – claims generally grouped together under the banner of “defamation.”

A jury ultimately awarded Dadd $40,000 for her negligence claim and $273,750 for the defamation claims. The defendants appealed, and the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that Dadd was not entitled to her damages for defamation. According to the Court of Appeals, the pastor was protected by “qualified immunity” and his statements could not be considered defamatory. The Michigan Supreme Court disagreed, and held that the jury’s determination that Williams acted maliciously negated any privilege or immunity.

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