What Constitutes Defamation?

Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of Grant Lawson with Metier Law Firm.

What Constitutes Defamation?
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Defamation lawsuits can be tricky both to file and to defend against. Defamation is considered the action of damaging a person’s reputation through slander or libel. It can be difficult to determine what truly constitutes defamation, as the allegedly defamatory claims must meet several qualifications.

Defamation can result in harm to a person’s personal and professional life, not to mention the close family and friends of those who know the victim. Reputational damages can be significant and can cause loss of income not to mention severe emotional distress. To learn more about defamation or for help filing, contact a defamation lawyer.

There are two qualifications a claim must make to qualify as defamation.

In order for someone’s words or action to be considered defamatory, they must meet two specific criteria, defined as follows:

  • Falsity. In order for something to be considered defamation, the claims made must be false. While true statements may hurt a person’s reputation, if they are true it is not illegal to share them. In regard to defamation of a public figure, it may only be necessary to prove that the accused acted recklessly in regard to the truth.
  • Malicious intent. In order for a person’s words to be considered defaming in the legal sense, they must be shared with malicious intent to harm the party in the question. In regard to defamation of a private figure, it may only be necessary to prove that the accused acted with gross negligence toward the injured party.

There are two specific kinds of defamation claims.

Defamation may come in two different forms, and their definitions vary based on the medium of communication used to share the defamatory sentiments. The two types of defamation lawsuits include:

  • Libel: In general, any type of defamation which occurs in written word or through published works or pictures is considered libel.
  • Slander: Defamation which occurs through oral means or the spoken word is considered slander.

Defamation cases are difficult to prove.

Defamation cases are difficult to prove for a variety of reasons, but one of the main ones is the ease with which a person may defend against one. In order to prove that a comment or written work is not defamatory, the accused has only to prove at least one of three things: that the statement they made was true in nature; that they had some kind of duty to provide the information to the public; or that they were merely expressing an opinion.

Between these three possibilities for defense, it’s not hard to see why it is difficult to prove a defamation case. The difficulty in proving something as intangible as intention or negligence makes these cases some of the hardest to litigate. Additionally, the process for proving that true defamation occurred may vary based on whether the defamed person is a public or private figure. The key difference in building a defamation case for a private or public figure depends on whether you need only prove negligence (as is the case with the defamation of a private citizen), or whether you need to prove that the defendant acted intentionally with malice or recklessly in regard to the truth (as is the case with the defamation of a public figure).

Damages in a defamation case are unique and specific.

In a successful defamation lawsuit, the injured party may seek compensation for damages such as lost wages, impairment of earning capacity, pain and suffering, and mental anguish. However, this is only the case when the defamatory statements made by another party caused actual harm to a person’s professional and/or personal reputation.

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