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Libel and Slander: Defamation Laws

Libel and slander are forms of defamation, a civil complaint defined as publicly making false statements about another person.

  • Libel is a false and malicious statement about someone else, expressed in print. This statement can be made through writing, pictures, signs or other printed material. Some courts distinguish between a libel that appears defamatory at the first glance (“libel per se”) and libel that simply implies something defamatory (“libel per quod”).
  • Slander is a false and malicious spoken statement about someone else. Slander is also subdivided into categories. For example, if a spoken defamatory statement is made about another’s profession or business, such statement is a “slander per se.”

Proving Defamation through Libel or Slander

To prove defamation through libel or slander, the statement must fulfill all three requirements:

  1. Communicated intentionally or negligently to someone else.
  2. Harmful to the reputation of the person the statement refers to. In another words, the communicated statement has to be “defamatory.”
  3. The statement must point in some way to the person defamed. Such reference may be implied.

However, depending on the status of the person being defamed or the subject matter of communication, malice or/and actual injury must be shown. For example, because of the Constitutional free speech protections, a libel or slander that references a public figure or official requires a showing  of malice, Similarly, when libel or slander reference a private person but with respect to public concern subject matter, it is necessary to show the presence of malice or negligence resulting in actual injury. 

Common Employment Situations Where Defamation Claims Arise

  • Termination of Employment: Whether an employee resigns or is fired, the employer should avoid criticizing the former employee or discussing the decision to terminate an employee in the presence of other people.
  • Job References: While employers can speak candidly about their former employees, an employer cannot be untruthful. The employer should not exaggerate the facts.
  • Business Communications: An employer can be held responsible for an employee who unintentionally makes a false statement about another person or business. It is very important that business communications be factually accurate.

What Can an Employer Do to Prevent a Libel or Slander Lawsuit?

As an employer, it is best to have established policies and procedures regarding termination, providing references and the scope of an employee's communications regarding the business in order to avoid defamation lawsuits. An employer should also study, review, and evaluate possible defenses to defamation.

What's the Difference between Libel and Slander?

Libel usually takes the form of a written down statement injuring your reputation while slander is an oral expression. Libel can thus be thought of as defamation by sight while slander would be defamation conveyed by sound. However, most courts consider modern broadcasts, such as movies, television, and radio, as libel.

Why Does the Distinction Matter?

Damages in Defamation Cases – General damages may be awarded to a plaintiff if his reputation has been injured, but a plaintiff's ability to obtain general damages depends on whether the case is label or slander and the facts of the case. Where general damages may be awarded, the plaintiff is allowed to recover compensation without any proof beyond the defamatory nature of the statement(s). This compensation covers the emotional trauma and harm suffered by the plaintiff. Sometimes, however, the plaintiff must prove a specific type of loss in order to prevail, known as “special damages.” This includes specific economic losses, such as lost profits, that resulted from the defamation. These are often hard to prove. If the plaintiff can prove his special damages, he may then recover general damages.

Libel and Libel Per Quod – Most courts allow any plaintiff claiming libel to recover general damages. These damages are presumed from the harm to the plaintiff’s reputation. Some states have made a distinction between libel per se (libel on its face) from libel per quod (requiring extrinsic evidence). For libel per quod, the plaintiff must show special damages unless the libel falls into a “slander per se” category.  

Slander and Slander Per Se – If the defamation is characterized as slander, the plaintiff will most likely have to prove special damages. However, some statements are deemed so horrible that they are “slanderous per se,” requiring no additional proof of special damages. 
Examples include:

  • Attacks on the plaintiff’s competence to perform adequately in his profession
  • Claiming the plaintiff has a loathsome disease
  • Alleging that the plaintiff has engaged in serious criminal misbehavior
  • Suggesting a that a woman is morally impure

Do I Need a Skilled Libel and Slander Attorney?

An attorney will help you with the often difficult procedures involved in filing a libel or slander lawsuit. A personal injury lawyer will also help if your employer has treated you unfairly because you filed defamation charges against them. If you are an employer being sued by a former employee for libel or slander, you should speak to a lawyer immediately.

Photo of page author Ki Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 04-22-2018 06:53 PM PDT

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