Are You a Victim of Defamation?

October 20, 2015  |  defamation, libel, slander, victim

      Just because someone says something about you that you don’t like does not automatically mean that you can sue them.  So what is defamation?  Defamation consists of four points that must be established in order to prove your claim.

      There must be (1) defamatory language, (2) about you, (3) which is published, and (4) which causes injury to your reputation.  A statement, whether written or oral, is defamatory if it tends to bring you into public hatred, contempt or ridicule; cause you to be shunned or avoided; or hurt your business or job.  If the language contains false allegations of criminal conduct or unfitness to perform a job, the statement is libelous per se (if written) or slanderous per se (if spoken).  You would not need to prove malice in that circumstance.[1]  

      The publication of the defamatory language must be either intentionally or negligently published to a third party.  Just making an unkind statement about you to you alone will not satisfy the requirement that the language be published.  Also, the statement must damage your reputation.  If you had a terrible reputation to begin with and the statement had no impact on it, you will likely not have a claim for defamation.  

      Truth is an absolute defense to defamation.  That means that, for example, if someone calls you a liar on social media, and you are in fact a liar, you will not win your defamation lawsuit.

      Other defamation defenses include the defense of privilege, which can be absolute or qualified.  An example of an absolute privilege would be statements made during a debate at an official city commission meeting.  A council member could criticize someone in that setting and not be found to have committed defamation due to a finding of privilege.  

      This is a very brief summary of what the civil action defamation involves.  If you have any questions or if you think you are a victim of defamation, whether it be libel or slander, you should consult with an attorney before you act or respond.  

Author: Megan E. Mersch


[1] There are exceptions to this rule that are too nuanced for the purposes of this article.  Also, when making statements about certain people and topics, such as public officials and their job performance, the legal requirements change.  If you have any questions about this, please contact Megan E. Mersch.