One service we offer is assistance with defamation of character claims. These can be interesting – on the one hand, we live in a free country. On the other hand, people shouldn’t do a lot of damage to each other’s lives by spreading false things about them.
Taking a step back, what is defamation of character? Here are a few highlights.
Defamation of Character: Written vs. Spoken
There are two different kinds of defamation: written and spoken.
Written defamation is called libel, and tends to hold up better in court. It’s fairly easy to prove if the statement was written somewhere in a book, newspaper, website, email, etc.
What’s more difficult is spoken defamation, which is called slander. It’s harder to prove if this defamation occurred unless there was some kind of recording such as a video.
Defamation of Character isn’t Done in Private
To harm someone’s reputation, the defamation can’t just take place in private. A third party needs to hear or see the statement for any kind of damage to be done.
For example, let’s say a news reporter is arguing with a political candidate in the candidate’s office. The reporter may make a defaming statement, but if nobody else is around then no damage to the candidate’s reputation was done.
The fact that a third party needs to witness the defamation means the statement is considered “published.” That doesn’t mean it’s in a book, newspaper, website, etc. It just means a third party witnessed it so damage was done.
The Statement Must be False
If an actor has an affair and the news comes out, that can’t be considered defamation. It will probably damage the actor’s reputation, but that’s because of something they actually did.
Defamation would be if someone claimed the actor was having an affair… but they actually weren’t and had been loyal to their spouse since day 1.
Note that we tend to use public figures in these illustrations for two reasons:
- People in the spotlight arguably have more to lose from defamation of character, so they tend to find themselves in these situations the most often.
- It’s something most people can relate to hearing about, since we hear about these kinds of things in the news.
One last note on this – if something is an opinion, that isn’t usually considered defamation. A movie critic that says an actor had a terrible performance in a movie is giving their opinion, so it’s not defamation.
Defamation Must be Injurious
Another part of the case is the damage caused by the statement should be proven somehow. Maybe someone wasn’t able to get a job because of the statement. Perhaps their family or friends have turned their backs on the person.
The damage should be directly attributed to the statement. If someone was already in a bad spot because of their previous behavior, a defamation case may not hold up in court.
Defamation of Character Needs to be Unprivileged
There are particular instances where someone can make defaming statements that they can’t be sued for. The main one to think about is in court. A witness giving a false testimony or deposition can’t be sued later.
Are you involved in a defamation of character civil lawsuit? Give us a call at 714-456-9118 and we’ll see what we can do to help.