Photo of true or falseHave You Suffered from Libel?

Consult With a Libel Attorney to Learn About Your Options

Libel is a type of defamation in the form of a published work; published works include written words and pictures. When the published works that are printed are false and are published with malicious intent, the publisher and/or writer are guilty of libel. If the published work is true, there is no libel. Thus, though a published work may damage one’s reputation, if it is true, the person is not entitled to damages.

Libel claims often stem from statements another person makes which cause scorn or disgrace to the victim. While untrue comments are made every day, it is rare for someone to pursue a libel case, primarily because this type of case can be difficult to prove.

For anyone accused of libel, to prove that a publishing was not defamatory, all the accused has to do is one or more of these three things:

  1. Prove that the statement is true.
  2. Show how they had a duty to provide the information, such as in a judicial proceeding.
  3. Claim to be expressing an opinion.

With this in mind, it’s not hard to see why it can be difficult to make a libel accusation stick. Many libel cases do not make it to court for this and similar reasons, and are often settled outside of court or dropped when the victim gives up. Due to the low number of libel cases that actually make it to trial, there are not a lot of statistics to refer to. The libel cases that do make it to court and are not thrown out can result in the published work being taken down, monetary damages, and/or a public apology.

What are the Facts About Libel?

The most important thing to remember when pursuing a libel case is that the claims must be false to be eligible for legal recourse, regardless of whether they cause damage. Additionally, the speaker must have made the claims with malicious intent. Libel can occur in any type of published works, including pictures and videos in addition to words. For a statement to be considered legitimately defamatory, it must have been made to a third party.

Let’s go over some more important facts on libel:

  • Every state in the U.S. has some sort of libel law, and most of them are quite similar. These laws are intended to compensate people for the damage to their reputation and subsequent damages to their life, but not to punish the person guilty of libel.
  • Although a true statement cannot be considered libel even if it causes harm, it could still be considered an invasion of privacy.
  • In order to win a defamation lawsuit, the victim must prove that the defendant negligently or intentionally spread a false statement about them and that this defamation resulted in material harm to the plaintiff.
  • The United States has a specific law governing online defamation which can be found in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This statute absolves Internet service providers (hosting companies, websites, developers, etc.) of defamation liability over user comments and content.
  • There are some common defenses people use in response to being accused of defamation. These may include the following: opinion, truth/falsity, privilege, wire service defense, libel-proof plaintiff doctrine, and consent.

Libel Against a Private VS Public Figure.

The litigation process for libel can be complicated due to the intangible nature that goes into proving intention or negligence in the act of this type of defamation. There are generally few parties involved in libel cases, but potentially more than in a slander lawsuit.

For example, both the publisher of the libel and the writer of it may be held responsible in a libel case.

In libel cases, the circumstances of the case depend primarily on whether the person libeled is a private or public figure. Due to the type of motives which must be proven, it can be more difficult for a public figure to win a libel lawsuit than for a private person.

  • Private figures. According to most states, if the person libeled was a private citizen, the defendant accused of libeling that person can only be held liable if the plaintiff proves it was false and occurred due to negligence or intention. This means that the victim of defamation must prove the defendant knew the statement was false or could be defamatory, or acted recklessly with regard to the truth/falsity of the statement, neglecting to first ascertain its verity.
  • Public figures. If the person libeled was a public figure, the accused party must meet stricter standards regarding their motivation in publishing the libel. For example, if the person libeled was a public figure, the defendant can only be held liable for if he/she knew that the statement they made was false, or if the defamation occurred as a result of acting with reckless disregard to the truth.

The key difference in building a libel case for a private or public figure hinges on whether you only need to prove negligence (as is the case with the libel of a private citizen), or whether you need to prove the defendant acted intentionally with malice or recklessly in regard to the truth (as is the case with the libel of a public figure).

Do You Have a Claim for Libel?

It can be difficult to figure out whether you have a claim for damages as a result of libel. Due to the intangible nature of this type of claim, it’s a good idea to seek legal advice before you engage in what could be a lengthy and expensive legal process. Compensation may be sought for cases in which the libel of the victim has caused tangible harm and suffering. In some places, mental anguish and humiliation qualify as compensatory damages, but the plaintiff must be able to prove either intentionality or negligence on behalf of the defendant.

Depending on the nature of your damages due to libel, your lawyer may identify possible claims for:

  • Lost wages (or impairment of earning capacity) as a result of professional defamation.
  • Pain and suffering, for emotional distress.
  • Mental anguish and personal humiliation.

If you or a loved one has been libeled, you need an attorney that understands the emotional and physical toll libelous printings can take on a victim’s life and reputation. An experienced attorney will be aggressive in seeking the compensation that you deserve.

Related: The Difference Between Libel and Slander