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 false and malicious information.
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 defamation 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 regarding careers, reputations, and personal life. On the other hand, individuals can speak freely about one another without being scared that they will get pulled into court for litigation.
What Are Defamation Laws?
As an area of law, defamation works to remedy situations in which someone’s words cause damage to someone else’s livelihood or reputation. A person who has experienced defamation, or has been defamed, may sue the person responsible for the defamation in a civil court.
Defamation of character is an umbrella term for any statement that damages another person’s reputation.
In the United States, laws are in place to prevent people from ruining other people’s lives regarding careers, reputations, and personal life. Nevertheless, citizens can speak freely about one another without fear that they will get pulled into court for litigation. Defamation laws attempt to balance this freedom of speech.
What Is the Difference Between Libel and Slander?
Written defamation, such as defaming someone in a book or newspaper, is libel. This definition of libel can also extend to cover businesses, not just individuals. Additionally, libel can refer to visual depictions and published statements made on radio, audio, and video.
Libel is considered damaging to a person’s reputation because large amounts of people can read defaming information. To recover for libel, the false statement must harm the other person’s reputation, as opposed to being merely insulting or offensive.
Spoken defamatory words are called slander. Slander involves the oral “publication” of defamatory remarks that a third party hears. The difference between libel and slander lies in the method of publication. Recently, it has been determined that there are few differences between the two terms. The Illinois Supreme Court explained in the Bryson v. News America Publication, Inc. case that “libel and slander are now treated alike, and the same rules apply to a defamatory statement regardless of whether the statement is written or oral.”
Why Does the Distinction Matter?
Because defamation in the form of libel is generally more injurious than slander, courts generally look at libelous cases as more serious. In some circumstances, the distinction between libel and slander is less clear. If the defamation is more permanent, such as an article or a recording, it is more likely that a court will consider it libel.
This distinction matters because, in many cases, it comes down to damages. If a plaintiff can prove that a statement was libelous “on its face,” damages are presumed. Proving actual specifics and amount of loss (special damages) is not necessary. Nevertheless, if the statement was slanderous, the plaintiff will likely have to prove special damages.
Generally speaking, libel and slander are civil claims. Some states do recognize an action for criminal defamation. Most state criminal libel statutes recognize statements that cause a breach of the peace and may criminalize published statements that are dishonest or expose someone to hatred, mockery, and contempt.
Libel claims may be brought by living persons and legal entities, such as corporations and unions. This definition extends to any entity considered a “person” under the law. Governmental entities cannot bring a lawsuit for libel, but government officials can if statements were directed towards the official individually.
Proving Defamation Through Libel or Slander
State laws regarding proving defamation through the legal theories of libel and slander vary. Nevertheless, there are some general rules that a person must prove to show that a statement made was defamatory. Again, the false statement must harm the other person’s reputation, as opposed to being merely insulting or offensive.
A statement may be considered defamatory if the statement was:
- Published: Under legal definitions, “statement” refers to something that can be said, written, pictured, or gestured. A published statement means that a third party saw or heard the statement, but it does not necessarily mean it was printed in a book or magazine. This definition includes radio, speeches, television, social media, or even loud conversation;
- False: Defamatory statements must be objectively false. This is because factual statements are not considered to be damaging to others;
- Injurious: The plaintiff must demonstrate that the statement harmed them somehow. An example of this would be if they lost work because of the statement, or they were shunned or harassed by neighbors because of defamatory remarks; and
- Unprivileged: The defamatory statement must also be unprivileged. This means that in some cases, such as witnesses testifying in court or lawmakers making statements in the legislative chamber, they are not to be held liable for any statements that would otherwise be defamatory.
You must document all of the details if you think a person has committed libel against you to prove the above criteria.
Are There Any Legal Defense to a Defamation Lawsuit?
There are two defenses against defamation: Common Law Defenses and Constitutional Defenses.
Common law defenses to defamation include:
- Substantial Truth: If the statement was true, then there is no basis for a defamation action. Nevertheless, the burden is on the defendant to prove 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 connected with the speaker’s moral, legal, or social obligations. For instance, 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 a defense for defamation. The availability of these defenses depends 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. If you have been defamed, it is in your best interest to hire an experienced lawyer in your area today. Take the first steps towards fixing the damage to your reputation or career by using LegalMatch today.