Libel and slander are two types of defamation. Defamation occurs when an individual makes false statements about another person or business that causes an injury. Libel includes statements made in a printed publication, whereas slander encompasses spoken statements. Although the law seeks to provide for a remedies to those who are harmed by others, the Constitution also provides certain kinds of protection. Thus, the First Amendment guarantees of free speech can make defamation cases quite complicated.
What Are the Defenses to Defamation?
There are several defenses that prevent liability for slander or libel.
- Truth - If the statement made is true, there can be no claim for libel or slander. In many courts, a "reasonable belief" that the statement is true will also be a successful defense, though other courts will require higher degrees of care when determining whether a statement is true.
- Opinion - A statement made as an opinion cannot be considered defamation in most places as long as it is not presented as a fact.
- Privilege - Statements made in court by witnesses, attorneys, or judges and statements made during many government proceedings are usually considered privileged and cannot be subject to defamation claims.
- No Actual Harm - A defendant could also argue that the statement did not actually harm the person. Harm is part of the definition of defamation, so if the person's reputation is not harmed there is no slander or libel. For example, a false statement that is clearly ridiculous and believed by no one cannot provide a recovery for defamation.
Moreover, public figures bringing lawsuits for slander or libel must establish that the statement was made with knowledge that it was false or with a reckless disregard for the truth. This standard also applies when a private person seeks to sue a journalist. This creates a higher standard of proof for public figures, as well as for private persons seeking to sue reporters.
Additionally, technology has presented some interesting issues. For example, federal courts have deemed a blogger does not qualify as a media person for the purposes of the higher standard of proof.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you think that you have been a victim of libel or slander, an experienced personal injury lawyer can advise you of your rights and help you with the difficult process of filing a lawsuit. If you have been charged with libel or slander, an attorney can help you determine any defenses that might be applicable.