Defamation is any statement, written or oral, which damages another person’s reputation. Defamation that is written is called "libel," and defamation that is spoken is called "slander."
Although defamation is not considered a criminal offense, if you have been defamed by another person and the defamation has caused loss or injury, you may have the right to file a civil claim against the offender and receive compensation for your loss or injury.
What is slander?
Slander is an oral or spoken falsehood that is presented as truth. As mentioned above, to be slanderous, a comment or statement must damage the reputation of another party. It does not have to be placed in a fixed form, but can include any verbal communication that is overheard by another party that is not the subject of the defamatory statement.
What is libel?
Libel is the written or spoken publication of a defamatory remark or statement. The communication does not have to be oral to be considered libel. Statements made in any fixed medium—including radio, television, magazines, film or newspapers—can also be libelous.
Proving My Defamation Case
To prove that you have been defamed, you must first prove that your statement was published, which means that the statement was verbalized, written or gestured. The statement or information must have also been heard or viewed by a third party. Given the permanency of the written word, legal cases for libel may be considered more serious than those for slander.
Next, the libel or slander must be false. If the statement is true, no matter how disparaging, the courts will not consider it damaging. The libel or slander must cause injury or harm. Harm or injury, however, can take many forms such as a damaged reputation or loss of business.
Finally, defamation only occurs if the statements were read or heard by a person who did not have privilege. This requirement allows certain statements or evidence to be made by certain persons, such as someone giving a statement at a deposition, or a lawmaker speaking in a legislative session.
Proving Actual Harm
One of the toughest elements of proving your defamation case will be proving actual harm. However, some types of statements—assuming that they are false—are automatically considered defamatory. These statements can include negative statements about someone’s sexual misconduct or their sexual health; calling them a racist; or claiming that they have committed a crime that they have not committed.
So how do you prove harm? There are several ways. For instance, one of the most common methods is to prove that the defamatory statement has damaged your professional reputation and that you have lost business or customers. If you have lost your job or other employment opportunities; or suffered mental or physical anguish, including depression, anxiety or insomnia, you may also be able to prove loss.
Evidence must be provided in court to substantiate your claim of loss or injury. Evidence can include witness testimony from friends or relatives about your declining mental health condition; evidence from your doctor; or financial information, including medical bills or bank statements. Expect the plaintiff in the suit to challenge your assertion of defamation with their own evidence.
Slander & Libel and Public Figures
If you are a public figure or celebrity, it will be more difficult to prove libel or slander. Not only will you have to prove all of the elements listed above, but you will also have to prove actual malice, which means that the person who verbalized or wrote the statement knew that it was not true but did not care or acted recklessly, publishing the information without proper verification.
Our courts have generally protected private individuals to a greater degree than public figures, arguing that our laws must balance the public’s First Amendment rights against the civil injury caused by libel and slander.
Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer
If you have been the victim of libel or slander, you may be entitled to damages for your injury. Consider, however, that it will not be enough to prove that the defendant verbalized a slanderous statement. You will also have to prove that it was not true, it was not just their opinion, and that you suffered actual damage from the statement or written publication.
Also consider that not all injurious statements or written remarks will rise to the level of libel or slander. To win your personal injury claim for defamation, you will have to prove certain elements of your case.
Personal injury laws may vary by state. It is always a good idea to talk to an injury lawyer if you have questions about your case. Consider that each state has its own statute of limitations, which can vary by state and by type of case. Waiting too long to file a case for libel or slander may jeopardize your right to compensation.