Defamation, which includes libel and slander, is the making of false and malicious statements that are communicated either through writing or spoken words. Defamation can result in liability for the publisher or speaker of the false and malicious statement.
Written defamation, such as someone defaming someone in a book, magazine, or newspaper, is called libel. Spoken words about someone are called slander. A person who has been defamed can sue the person that did the defaming in civil court if they can prove the elements of defamation were present.
Defamation laws are in place to prevent people from ruining other people’s lives when it comes to career, reputation, and personal life. On the other hand, people have the right to speak freely about one another without being scared that they are going to get pulled into court for litigation.
Are There Any Legal Defense to a Defamation Lawsuit?
There are two types of defenses to defamation: Common Law Defenses and Constitutional Defenses.
Common Law Defenses
Common law defenses to defamation include:
- Substantial Truth - If the statement was true, then there is no basis for a defamation action. However, the burden is on the defendant for proving that the statement was true.
- Absolute Privileges - Some situations rely so heavily on free discourse that the law provides immunity from defamation liability. Many of these privileges arise in governmental proceedings.
- Qualified Privileges - These privileges are based on the social utility of protecting communications made in connection with the speaker's moral, legal, or social obligations. For example, a former employer may provide information about an employee to a prospective employer.
Constitutional Defenses to Defamation
The Constitution of the United States also provides defense for defamation. The availability of these defenses depend on the status of the person being defamed:
- Public Officials - Public officials (such as politicians) cannot sue for defamation unless the author of the statements knew or should have known they were false.
- Public Figures - Public figures (such as celebrities) also cannot sue for defamation unless the author of the statements knew or should have known they were false.
- Private Persons - Everyday people can sue for defamation and recover damages for injury done to their reputation and private lives, regardless of whether or not the author of the statements knew or should have known they were false.
Do I Need a Lawyer for my Defamation Problem?
Proving defamation can be difficult and confusing. A personal injury lawyer can help you prove or defend against a defamation charge. An attorney can also help you file court papers and represent you.