The terms defamation, libel, and slander are often used without precision or an understanding of the distinct differences of each. Often, accusations of defamation are inaccurately thrown out in response to any public, offensive statement. Through this blog, we will provide some clarity on how and when these terms truly apply.

Defamation

Defamation is the umbrella under which slander and libel sit. Defamation is often phrased as “defamation of character”, and covers any false statement that hurts a person’s reputation. Both slander and libel are considered defamation. Unlike other states, California treats defamation as strictly civil, rather than a criminal matter. This means defamation is considered a “tort”, which is a civil wrong, rather than a criminal wrong. A person who has been defamed can sue the person who did the defamation for damages. Defamation is also categorized as an intentional tort, which means it must be proven the defendant intended publication of the defamation.

Libel

Written defamation is called libel. More technically, the California Civil Code defines libel as “a false and unprivileged publication by writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye, which exposes any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, […] which tends to injure him in his occupation.” In simpler terms, libel is a false damaging statement that causes professional harm or public shame. Libel, as opposed to slander, would be something one could see with the eye instead of hearing with the ear.

Slander

When defamation is spoken, it’s called slander. California law defines slander as “a false and unprivileged publication, orally uttered.” Unlike libel, statutory rules for slander designate which types of oral comments are deemed injurious. Slander is limited to any false comment that:

Defamation Per Se and Per Quod

There are two categories of defamation: defamation per se and defamation per quod with different standards when it comes to proving damages. If written, the statement could be called libel per se or libel per quod, and if spoken, slander per se or slander per quod. 

Defamation per se is defined as anything that is damaging on its face without further explanation. An example would be falsely saying someone was convicted of a crime or incompetent in their profession. All that is required to prove defamation per se is the defendant made the statement to someone not the plaintiff, the defendant reasonably understood the statements were about the plaintiff, that they reasonable understood what the statements meant, and the defendant failed to use reasonable care in finding out if the statements were true. 

Defamation per quod is when an allegedly defamatory publication requires an expert or other explanatory information to explain the libel or slander. Defamation per quod requires extrinsic evidence to show that a statement was harmful. It requires the same facts to be established as defamation per se, plus proof the plaintiff suffered harm to their property, business, profession, or occupation, and the statements were a substantial factor in causing such harm.

Do You Need Further Counsel in Regards to Defamation?

If you’ve been accused of or injured by defamation, it’s important to have a civil attorney with a thorough understanding of defamation law. Our firm can help you with our expertise and experience in this area of law. For further questions or to discuss your situation, contact us at 714.456.9118 or send us an email at info@voneschlaw.com.

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