False statements made about an individual or a business can harm their reputation, livelihood, and well-being. Although freedom of speech is a cherished American principle, this right is not absolute. If someone defames you, you also have the right to seek damages from them through a lawsuit.
Claims involving defamation, libel, and slander often have many complicating factors, including whether the person defamed is a public or private figure, the veracity of the potentially defamatory statement, and the intent of the person making the statement. The Internet poses additional complications for defamation suits, including factors such as jurisdiction, medium, defendants, and standards.
If you believe you have been defamed, you should contact an experienced attorney to discuss your legal options. The Business Trial Group represents parties that have been defamed on a contingency-fee basis, which means our clients pay no hourly bills or expensive retainers, and we are only paid when we win.
Defamation, Slander, and Libel Attorneys
A defamatory statement is an untrue factual statement made to a third party that causes injury or damage to the subject of the statement. Written defamatory statements are known as libel, while spoken defamatory statements are known as slander. Out attorneys are experienced at handling various types or slander and libel lawsuits, and can help guide you through this nuanced area of the law.
Facts vs. Opinions
Defamation deals with statements of fact—not statements of opinion. However, there can be a significant gray area between what constitutes a factual statement, and what constitutes an opinion. Merely prefacing a statement with “I think,” “I believe,” or similar qualifiers does not preclude defamation. When determining whether a statement is defamatory, courts look at both the context and the substance of the statement.
Statements Made to Third Parties
Only written or spoken statements made or communicated to a third party may be considered defamatory. Someone cannot be defamed by another person’s statement that is said or written directly to them. Defamation can occur even if the statement is made to just one other person, although more often, the statement in question has a broader audience. For example, a false statement made to only one other person—who is the subject’s business partner—maybe be defamatory, since it could cause real harm to their livelihood.
Defamation Per Se
Some statements are considered so inherently damaging that they’re presumed to be defamatory, regardless of their context (but not regardless of their truthfulness). This is known as defamation per se. Statements considered to be defamatory per se include those that:
- Claim the subject has committed a serious crime
- Claim the subject has an infectious disease or mental illness
- Lead to public distrust, hatred, ridicule, disgrace, or contempt of the subject
- Injure the subject in his or her trade or profession
It is important to keep in mind that no matter how egregious a statement, if it is true, it cannot be defamatory.
Public vs. Private Figures
The standard of conduct for defamation is different for public figures and private figures.
If the person allegedly defamed is a public person, in most cases, the person accused of defamation can be held liable if they intentionally made a false statement (i.e., they knew the statement was false), or acted with reckless disregard of the statement’s truth or falsity (i.e., they spread information about someone, despite having serious doubts about its truthfulness).
On the other hand, if the person allegedly defamed is a private person, it is only necessary to show that the person accused of defamation acted negligently. In defamation cases, the standard for negligence typically comes down to whether the person making the statement took reasonable steps to verify it (such as researching, editing, and fact checking).
While defamation cases are generally harder for public figures to win, the Business Trial Group has succeeded in the past.
Slander vs. Libel
The difference between slander and libel is the medium in which the statement is made.
Slanderous statements are those made orally. The statements can be made to one other person during a private conversation, to a handful of other people during a lunch with co-workers, or to a large group of people during a public address. As long as the statement is made to a third party—and is false—it is potentially slanderous.
Libelous statements are those made in writing. Libelous statements can appear in printed media such as newspapers and magazines, as well as online mediums such as websites, social media sites, blog posts, and internet chat rooms. Comments left online also fall into this category.
False and damaging statements made about a company’s goods or services are known as trade libel. Despite the use of the word “libel,” trade libel can involve spoken as well as written defamatory statements. As with statements about an individual, statements about a business are not considered defamatory if they are true. Also, to have a claim, the business must have suffered pecuniary damages (such as loss of revenue) from the alleged libelous statement.
A successful defamation lawsuit can result in an award of economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.
- Economic damages in defamation cases cover lost earnings, future lost earning capacity, and lost business or economic opportunities resulting from the defamatory statement(s). Medical bills, such as mental health treatment, may also be covered.
- Non-economic damages in defamation cases cover pain and suffering. This can include mental anguish, emotional distress, anxiety, damage to one’s reputation, loss of standing in the community, personal humiliation, and similar losses.
- Punitive damages—designed to punish the defendant for egregious conduct—may be available when a defamatory statement is made with malice or fraud, or in cases of defamation per se.
Publicly portraying someone as something they are not, or creating a false impression about them, is known as false light.
For example, a newspaper might use a stock photo of a street in a story about illicit activity taking place there, and inadvertently create the impression that a person appearing at random in the photo was somehow a party to the activity.
Actually a type of privacy claim, false light claims have a lot of overlap with defamation claims. Both center on the disclosure of harmful information. But while defamation is meant to protect reputation, false light is more about offensive or embarrassing implications. False light, furthermore, only occurs when a statement or disclosure is made with reckless disregard—even for a private figure. This is a much higher standard than for defamation, which uses the recklessness standard only for public figures. Finally, truth is an absolute defense to libel and slander, but truth is not always a defense to a false light claim.
Protect Your Reputation With Contingency-Fee Defamation Attorneys
Taking legal action may be the only way to undo the harm that another’s words caused you. The prospect of a long legal battle might make you think twice about filing a defamation lawsuit, but with contingency-fee litigation from the Business Trial Group, you need not worry about balancing the need for justice with high hourly attorneys’ fees. You pay for results—not hours—and pay nothing until we successfully resolve your case.
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