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What Is Libel?

Libel is the making of false statements about another person or business to someone else. Libel must refer to statements or visual depictions in written or other permanent form such as writings, pictures and signs. Libel can be damaging to a person’s reputation because it can be read by various amounts of people.

In order for you to recover for libel, the false statement must be defamatory, meaning that it actually harms the reputation of the other person, as opposed to being merely insulting or offensive.

Is a Libel Claim a Civil or Criminal Claim?

Libel and slander are usually civil claims, but some states recognize an action for criminal defamation. Most state criminal libel statutes recognize statements that cause breach of the peace and may criminalize published statements that impeach honesty or expose someone to hatred, mockery, and contempt.

Who Can Bring a Libel Claim?

A libel claim can be brought by living persons as well as legal entities such as corporations and unions and any entity considered a "person" under the law. Governmental entities cannot bring suit for libel but government officials can if statements were directed towards the official individually.

How Can I Prove the Libel Claim?

There are specific elements that must be shown in order to succeed in a libel claim:

  • It is essential to document all the details if you think a person has committed libel against you.
  • You must prove that the statement is false and untrue. This burden is on the plaintiff claiming the statement is false.
  • You must prove the defendant made the statement about your character and reputation.
  • You must prove the defamatory statement about you was made to the public or third party who actually heard or read the statement.
  • You must prove the statement was actually about you and the third party recognized that the statement was about you.
  • You must prove damages by proving your reputation suffered because of the defamatory statement.

What Damages Can I Recover?

Money damages are the normal award for a successful libel claim but punitive damages are occasionally awarded only if you can prove that the defendant made the statement out of malice and ill will. The amount of damage depends on whether the plaintiff was a private figure or a public figure. If you are a public figure, you must prove that the allegations are false and you must prove actual malice with reckless disregard for the truth.

If you are a private citizen who is not in the public eye, you do not have to prove malice and only have to prove that the statement was made negligently without verifying it’s accuracy or truth.

Do I Need an Experienced Libel and Slander Lawyer?

A lawyer will help you with the often timely and difficult procedures involved in filing a lawsuit. A 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, you should speak to a lawyer immediately.

Photo of page author Kourosh Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 06-04-2014 03:55 PM PDT

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