If someone said or wrote something about you that damaged your reputation, they may be in violation of defamation law. In today’s expansive media landscape, false or misleading information about you or your business can be devastating.
If someone said or published a false statement that hurt you, you may be able to seek damages under civil law. Although the defendant won’t be tried on a criminal level, you could be compensated for the toll the slander or libel had on your business or reputation.
Understanding Libel, Slander, And Defamation Laws
Legally speaking, defamation is defined as a false statement that harms a third party’s reputation. Within this “tort” of defamation, which is the legal term for civil wrongdoing, both libel and slander are included.
Defamation is not a crime, but is a body of civil law that may entitle the victim to pursue damages. Defamation law walks a fine line between the constitutional right to freedom of speech and the hazards that come with falsehoods and misinformation.
The Difference Between Libel And Slander
Although both libel and slander are covered under defamation, there is a clear distinction. In simple terms, libel is a written statement and slander is a spoken statement.
Slander is defined as a false statement made verbally that defames another person. For example, if a person, radio show host, podcaster, or television anchor makes a false statement about you, it may be considered slander. The key here is a verbal statement made against you.
Libel is defamation that is communicated through some form of “fixed” publication, whether it’s written or otherwise.
Examples of how libel is expressed includes:
- pictures or photographs
- signs or other visual content
- sculptures, paintings, or other works of art
Defamation lawsuits may also include both slander and libel. As the digital age carries on, more and more libel or slander cases involve some kind of online or social media defamation.
Social Media And Internet Defamation
The internet and social media are a potential hotbed for libelous attacks. Although some sites may screen for defamatory content, false posts are unavoidable.
Online libel may occur in:
- blog posts
- website comments
- chatroom conversations
- Facebook, Twitter, or other social media posts
While the Communications Decency Act prohibits you from making a claim against an internet service provider, you could hold the poster or blogger accountable for libel or slander. Of course, this depends on the state you live in, as well as the state where the defamer lives.
What Constitutes A Defamatory Statement?
Courts consider a statement to be defamatory when it is false and causes harm. The person or entity making the statement must have knowingly or negligently said (slander) or published (libel) something that defames the plaintiff’s reputation.
A defamatory statement may cause the plaintiff to be subject to:
Examples Of Defamatory Statements
Defamatory statements, whether libelous or slanderous, may occur for a variety of reasons across a wide range of platforms.
Some examples of defamatory statements in libel or slander cases include:
- You need a reference for a new job. Your previous employer writes in an email that you were fired because you were repeatedly late (you actually resigned for personal reasons). As a result of the poor reference, you don’t get the new job.
- In a conversation with prospective clients, your business partner says you were involved in a felonious crime when you were younger. You lose the client.
- You’re selling your house. You have a prospective buyer. Before the sale, your neighbor tells the buyer that you’ve cheated him several times over. The buyer backs out of the sale.
- You’re well-known in the community. A local newspaper publishes an article that claims you’ve cheated local businesses and are untrustworthy. Your reputation and business relationships suffer as a result.
If any of the statements in the examples are made falsely you may be entitled to compensation for harm caused by those false statements.
Types Of Libel And Slander Defamation Claims
To further your understanding of libel and slander claims, consider three types of defamation cases: defamation per se, defamation per quod, and actual malice.
Defamation Per Se
“Defamation Per Se” are statements that deal obvious damage to your reputation. For these cases, you don’t have to prove you were harmed.
Although state law varies, there are four types of defamation per se cases:
- A false statement that someone has a disease, such as an STD or mental illness.
- A false statement that someone committed a serious crime. Serious crimes include forgery, rape, drug dealing, robbery, theft, assault, or other immoral offenses.
- A false statement that suggests an individual (man or woman) engages in immoral sexual activities.
- A false statement about someone’s business or their business reputation. This includes things like embezzling money or being dishonest in business dealings.
Defamation Per Quod
Defamation per quod is a defamation that is either not apparent from the statement itself and requires extrinsic evidence to show its defamatory nature or is apparent but does not fall into one of the per se categories. For this type of defamation, you’ll need to show that you were harmed because of the false statement. This could involve being evicted from your home or being fired from your job. In these examples, the financial harm or damage isn’t as obvious as per se cases.
How To Prove Defamation For Libel Or Slander Claims
Although state laws regarding defamation vary by state, there are some general rules when it comes to proving your case.
Once you’ve been defamed, you’ll need to show that the statement made against you had four elements:
- the statement was false
- the statement was published
- the statement was injurious
- the statement was not “privileged”
The Defamatory Statement Was False
To prove defamation, the statement must be false and presented as a matter of fact instead of opinion. Truth is a complete defense to defamation, meaning that even if the statement was harmful it also must be untrue to be considered defamation. If the defamatory statement was an opinion, then it will be much harder to prove it false in court. A food critic may write, “the chef’s dish tasted terrible,” but this statement cannot be proven false because taste is subjective.
The Defamatory Statement Was Published
From a legal perspective, the word published means communicated to another person or third party. The statement must simply have been made public through any means, including in a spoken conversation or in a blog post.
The Defamatory Statement Was Injurious
With a traditional libel or slander claim, you’ll also need to show that the defamatory statement caused you financial or monetary damage. With per se libel or slander claims you do not have to prove financial harm and you may be able to recover for strictly reputational damages.
The Defamatory Statement Was “Unprivileged”
Our Constitution’s First Amendment provides very broad protections for speech, so in any defamation analysis it is important to determine whether the person making the defamatory statement is legally protected in making that statement.
There are instances when a potentially defamatory statement is protected by “absolute privilege.” This typically happens when the statement is made as part of a governmental proceeding, like during trial or in an open legislative session. In other instances, statements may be protected by “qualified privilege.” This type of privilege arises when the statement is deemed to have some kind of legal, moral, or social value. It’s best to consult with an attorney to determine privilege.
If The Plaintiff Is A Public Figure
This type of defamation is a statement made with complete disregard of the truth. The individual knowingly published or communicated a falsehood about the plaintiff.
If the plaintiff is a public figure like a politician or a public school superintendent, they may have to prove actual malice to win a defamation claim. Actual malice must also be pursued if the statement is of public interest.
Statute Of Limitations For Defamation Lawsuits
For defamation cases, the statute of limitations begins as soon as the defamatory statement is written, spoken, or posted online. Statute of limitations vary by state, but many states have a two-year deadline for a defamation, libelous, or slanderous claim.
Some states make a distinction between slander and libel cases, but limitations generally range from one to three years. Due to the varying nature of statute of limitations for defamation lawsuits, it’s best to hire an attorney.
How An Attorney Can Help Your Libel, Slander, Or Defamation Claim
Due to the complexities of libel and slander cases, as well as variations in state law, hiring an attorney is essential for collecting damages for defamation of character. Your attorney will help you establish your case by investigating your claim and preparing you for the legal arguments that may be made in the defamer’s defense.
Investigating Your Libel, Slander, Or Defamation Claim
A qualified attorney will start their investigation of the case by interviewing you, the plaintiff, directly. Your attorney will want to know everything that happened.
Their investigation will work to gather the following information:
- what the defamer said or wrote, including every little detail
- who the defamer said it to or where it was published
- how you discovered or heard about the defamatory statement
- the names of potential witnesses
- how you were injured or damaged
- your proof of damages
If it’s a libel case, your attorney will also need a copy of the defamatory statement. After an investigation, your attorney will negotiate with the defendant if they think the case can be settled.
Preparing For The Privilege Defense In Libel And Slander Claims
There are some communications that are privileged, or not liable, in a defamation case. Within this context, there are two types of legal arguments that can be made to defend the defamer: absolute privilege and qualified privilege.
Absolute Privilege In Libel Or Slander Cases
Absolute privilege means the defamer had the right to make a false claim at the time of the statement. Their right is absolute, which means they’re immune to a libel or slander claim. This includes statements given in legal or official proceedings, such as statements made by government officials or witnesses in judicial proceedings.
Qualified Privilege In Libel Or Slander Cases
Qualified privilege isn’t as straightforward as absolute privilege. With qualified privilege, the defamer may have had the right to make a defamatory statement. If a qualified privilege applies to your defamation case, then you and your attorney must also prove actual malice, which means they acted with hatred, spite, or ill-will. However, different state laws may apply.
Examples of qualified privilege can include:
- governmental reports from official proceedings
- municipal government officials or local board members
- testimony in a legislative hearing or proceeding
- self-defense, or statements that warn about potential danger or injury
- fair criticism from film or book reviews
Avoiding The Absolute Truth Defense In Libel Or Slander Cases
For a defamation claim, if the false statement turns out to be true, it can completely derail a case. Regardless of how harmful the statement was to you and your reputation, the statement must be false to present a defamation case. If the statement is true, there is no slander or libel case.
Statement Of Opinion In Libel Or Slander Cases
Since defamation is defined as a false statement of fact, an opinion is not a defamatory statement. However, determining what is an opinion and what is a fact is complex, especially in the eyes of the law. Your attorney will look at the details of the case and determine whether a statement of opinion applies in your case.
Libel And Slander Attorneys Serving The U.S.
Operating in multiple states, our team of attorneys are experts in civil law, including defamation of character claims. It can be hard to know if you should defend your reputation and undo negligent harm by taking legal action.
Our experienced libel and slander attorneys at Florin|Roebig can help explain your case and include:
- Wil H. Florin, B.C.S.
- Tommy D. Roebig, B.C.S.
- Michael L. Walker, B.C.S.
- Chase P. Florin, B.C.S.
- Nicholas S. Costantino
- Jordan A. Kolinski
- Brian R. Dettman, O.C.
Contact Us Today For Help Filing A Defamation Claim
Whether it’s slander or libel, defamation of character can do tremendous harm to your business or reputation. It’s important you act fast and find an attorney to represent your case.
At Florin|Roebig, we take every case seriously and will investigate the alleged defamatory statement. We offer a free case evaluation to help you make sense of your situation. Once you reach out, we’ll determine if legal recourse is in your best interest.
To get started with a free case evaluation, and to learn more about your legal options, reach out to Florin|Roebig today.