Defamation of Character

Has someone been spreading falsehoods about you or your business? Suppose false information hurts your reputation or disparages your company’s goods or services. In that case, you may be a victim of defamation. 

Defamatory acts are becoming increasingly frequent. The ease of posting on social media makes it harder to distinguish facts from falsehoods. Unlike traditional letters, comments on Internet platforms can be posted immediately without filters and usually in the heat of emotion. 

If defamation of character happens against you, you may be eligible to pursue damages for the harm done to your reputation. But you must prove several elements to prevail in a defamation of character lawsuit. 

Because the court requires a high standard of proof of plaintiffs, defamation claims filed in the US are difficult to win. The recent defamation case between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp shows that a trial can be a long-running legal battle. Experienced defamation attorneys can be valuable when someone spreads something untrue and damaging about you. Below we’ll walk you through your legal options for any defamatory statements made against you or your business.

Key Takeaways

  • Defamation can harm a person’s reputation or stand in the community, leading to losses.
  • If a defamatory statement harms you, you could bring a lawsuit to pursue compensation.
  • Defamation of character can be challenging to prove, but an experienced personal injury attorney can help you get justice.

What Constitutes Defamation of Character?

Defamation is any intentional false statement injuring a person or company’s reputation. The tort of defamation encompasses both written and spoken statements. Your quality of life, career, or business could suffer because of defamation of character. 

Defamatory statements expressed in writing, print, signs, or any communication in physical form are libel. Meanwhile, false and defamatory information made verbally is slander. The law makes no real distinction between libel and slander

No matter the type of defamation, the injured party can pursue legal action against the person who did it. But most courts, juries, and insurance companies view libel as more harmful than slanderous statements. This is because written statements last longer than oral ones. 

While each state has different defamation laws, they generally defer to First Amendment rights. These guarantee free speech without fear of litigation over a political or social disagreement. However, the amendment doesn’t give protection to all forms of speech. 

Individuals should be able to speak freely, but they don’t have the right to defame another person. This makes defamation a tricky area of law as it tries to weigh competing interests. While people have the freedom of speech, someone should not ruin another’s life and reputation by telling lies. 

But it’s often challenging to navigate the line between an individual’s right to share opinions freely and protecting others from defamatory statements. Similarly, not all insults or false statements are actionable, such as someone’s opinion about a person or business. 

The most common problem is that the lines between stating an opinion and a fact can be blurry. The plaintiff must prove the following to establish a valid cause of action for a defamation lawsuit.

Falsity

Falsity is the first element of a defamation suit. This means that only false statements of fact can be considered defamatory.

Even if the remark is mean or damaging to a person’s reputation, it doesn’t qualify as defamation if it’s true. Making a statement that your employer cheated on his wife isn’t defamatory if he did cheat. 

However, if the review states the food has bits of glass, and it is not true, it may fall under defamation. 

Opinion statements like “I think” or “I believe” don’t qualify as defamatory. However, adding words of that nature to a straightforward statement of fact doesn’t automatically protect one from defamation. For instance, there’s no legal difference between the following defamatory statements if they’re untrue: 

  • Harold stole $200 from the grocery store yesterday.
  • I think Harold stole $200 from the grocery store yesterday. 

If a jury finds out that the person is disguising a factual statement as a protected opinion, they would still be liable for defamation. 

Publication

Another critical element that a plaintiff must prove is publication. A statement only constitutes defamation after publication. This doesn’t necessarily mean publication in a magazine or book. In defamation law, published means someone intentionally communicated false information to a third party.

The defamatory statement can be published in an email, text message, newspaper, or social media post. It can be found in a television interview or shared during a town hall meeting or cocktail party. The form of publication can vary depending on the type of defamation that occurred. 

But the most important thing to prove is that the false statement reached another person or the public. Suppose someone writes something harmful and untrue privately, like a journal, or directly says it to your face. In that case, it is not defamation because it was not published. 

Injury

The published false statement only qualifies as defamation if it negatively affects the public’s perception of an individual or business. A plaintiff must prove that the statement injured the victim’s professional or personal reputation. 

Harm can occur in different ways. Statements are considered harmful if you can present evidence for the following:

  • You lost your job because of false information that you committed a crime.
  • Your family or friends shunned you because another person falsely claimed you had an affair.
  • You lost opportunities for employment or financial security because you were deemed untrustworthy based on false statements.
  • You lost customers and business due to a defamatory online review.
  • You experienced mental anguish or emotional distress after the defamation occurred.

Just because the statement is false and hurts your feelings doesn’t mean it’s defamatory. It must cause actual harm for it to be defamation. 

Unprivileged

The offending statement must also be unprivileged to qualify as defamation. This means the person who published the false information about you didn’t have the privilege or right to do so. You can’t take legal action against qualified privileges, such as the following:

  • Statements made by government officials while in session
  • Damaging testimony made by a witness while testifying in court
  • Unfavorable references by employers about an employee’s job performance

Actual malice

In some defamation cases, such as those that involve public figures, one must prove that there’s actual malice

Public officials voluntarily put themselves in a position that naturally draws scrutiny. Because of this, plaintiffs against these officials have a higher burden of proof. They have to prove actual malice to hold someone liable for defamation. 

The official must have published statements with reckless disregard for the truth. The defendant knew the information was false or had serious doubts about its verity but stated it anyway. 

Note that private citizens don’t need to prove actual malice to prevail in a defamation of character lawsuit. This rule was designed for public figures to minimize frivolous defamation claims.


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Types of Damages Victims Can Recover in a Defamation Case

Damages is the legal term for monetary compensation awarded to the harmed party. Calculating damages for defamation is often complex and subjective. 

If you want an accurate sense of how much your case might be worth, consult with a personal injury attorney. Generally, there are three types of damages that you can recover for defamation of character. 

Special damages

Also known as actual damages, special damages are compensation for the direct financial losses caused by defamatory statements. It aims to award the plaintiff for losses with economic value. 

It’s also designed to restore the position they would have been in had the defamation not occurred. Examples of actual damages in a defamation case include:

  • Lost income and lost earning capacity
  • Loss of existing and future customers and business opportunities
  • Defamation-related out-of-pocket expenses, such as therapy costs and online content removal

General damages

Meanwhile, general damages refer to financial compensation for the intangible losses incurred by the victim after the defamation. Unlike special damages, this type of compensation doesn’t have actual monetary value, so it’s harder to quantify and calculate. 

In a defamation case, general damages may include but are not limited to the following:

  • Shame or public humiliation
  • Emotional distress
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Depression and anxiety

Even if you cannot prove actual damages, the court can assume that you suffered an injury to your reputation or other losses. But these damages are not available in every defamation case. Some states allow general damages in libel or written defamation cases but not slander cases.

Punitive damages

Punitive damages are also available in some defamation claims. But unlike special and general damages, they’re not meant to compensate the harmed party for their losses. 

These damages aim to punish the defendants for misconduct and deter the same bad behavior in the future. To be eligible for punitive damages, one must demonstrate that the defendant acted with actual malice. 

Steps To Take If You’re the Victim of Internet Defamation

Internet defamation has become more common due to social media. You can take legal action against the person who defamed you online. 

However, in some cases, the author may have posted defamatory statements anonymously. Another deterrent is when the person who posted the information is judgment-proof, meaning they don’t have the money to pay damages.

In such instances, you may sue the website that hosts the defamatory comment. However, the Communications Decency Act protects Internet platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Yelp from defamation lawsuits. 

An action plan is crucial when dealing with the consequences of internet defamation. Below are some steps you can take if someone defames you online.

  1. Capture the details of the defamatory statement

It would be best if you took action to minimize any harm as soon as you discover someone has defamed your character. But the first step is to capture the details of the false and damaging statement made against you, which may include:

  • The exact words of the statement
  • When the defendant communicated or published the information 
  • Whether the statement was published orally or through print
  • Where the author conveyed false information
  • To whom it was shared or communicated 
  1. Preserve any evidence of the false statement

Contents on the Internet might disappear as fast as they are created. Thus, there’s always a risk of someone editing or deleting the defamatory statement. Ensure that you preserve any evidence of the false information made against you. 

If the defamation occurred online, save the article, post, or comment. There are digital forensic tools that will help you preserve and authenticate a document that can stand up in court. 

  1. Consult with a defamation lawyer

False information travels quickly. But while it’s essential to address it as soon as possible, you also don’t want to make any rash decisions. Proving that the statements are objectively false can be challenging. 

When defamation occurs, consult with experienced defamation attorneys. They would help you explore your legal options and determine whether you have an actual defamation case. 

  1. Talk to a reputation management expert

Reputation is valuable, especially when you’re a public figure, professional, or business owner. Malicious falsehoods can significantly affect several areas of your life. You can minimize defamation’s impact by seeking advice from a reputation management expert. They can help you respond to damaging and false statements and reestablish trust. 

How Can a Lawyer Help With Your Defamation Case?

You may file a defamation claim without a lawyer, but the legalities can be highly complex. Suing for defamation of character without legal advice can make it even more challenging. Retaining skilled defamation attorneys has proven to be valuable in a variety of defamation cases. 

The first step of defamation action involves determining if you have a valid defamation of character lawsuit. A lawyer can help you establish the necessary evidence for the communicator’s liability. 

Lawyers can also determine the potential damages of your defamation case. They can better negotiate the compensation you deserve by looking at various factors. Suppose the matter still needs to be settled out of court. In that case, a lawyer from a reliable law firm can represent you and help you understand the details of the judicial proceeding.

Damages is the legal term for monetary compensation awarded to the harmed party. Calculating damages for defamation is often complex and subjective. 

If you want an accurate sense of how much your case might be worth, consult with a personal injury attorney. Generally, there are three types of damages that you can recover for defamation of character. 

Special damages

Also known as actual damages, special damages are compensation for the direct financial losses caused by defamatory statements. It aims to award the plaintiff for losses with economic value. 

It’s also designed to restore the position they would have been in had the defamation not occurred. Examples of actual damages in a defamation case include:

  • Lost income and lost earning capacity
  • Loss of existing and future customers and business opportunities
  • Defamation-related out-of-pocket expenses, such as therapy costs and online content removal

General damages

Meanwhile, general damages refer to financial compensation for the intangible losses incurred by the victim after the defamation. Unlike special damages, this type of compensation doesn’t have actual monetary value, so it’s harder to quantify and calculate. 

In a defamation case, general damages may include but are not limited to the following:

  • Shame or public humiliation
  • Emotional distress
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Depression and anxiety

Even if you cannot prove actual damages, the court can assume that you suffered an injury to your reputation or other losses. But these damages are not available in every defamation case. Some states allow general damages in libel or written defamation cases but not slander cases.

Punitive damages

Punitive damages are also available in some defamation claims. But unlike special and general damages, they’re not meant to compensate the harmed party for their losses. 

These damages aim to punish the defendants for misconduct and deter the same bad behavior in the future. To be eligible for punitive damages, one must demonstrate that the defendant acted with actual malice. 

Steps To Take If You’re the Victim of Internet Defamation

Internet defamation has become more common due to social media. You can take legal action against the person who defamed you online. 

However, in some cases, the author may have posted defamatory statements anonymously. Another deterrent is when the person who posted the information is judgment-proof, meaning they don’t have the money to pay damages.

In such instances, you may sue the website that hosts the defamatory comment. However, the Communications Decency Act protects Internet platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Yelp from defamation lawsuits. 

An action plan is crucial when dealing with the consequences of internet defamation. Below are some steps you can take if someone defames you online.

  1. Capture the details of the defamatory statement

It would be best if you took action to minimize any harm as soon as you discover someone has defamed your character. But the first step is to capture the details of the false and damaging statement made against you, which may include:

  • The exact words of the statement
  • When the defendant communicated or published the information 
  • Whether the statement was published orally or through print
  • Where the author conveyed false information
  • To whom it was shared or communicated 
  1. Preserve any evidence of the false statement

Contents on the Internet might disappear as fast as they are created. Thus, there’s always a risk of someone editing or deleting the defamatory statement. Ensure that you preserve any evidence of the false information made against you. 

If the defamation occurred online, save the article, post, or comment. There are digital forensic tools that will help you preserve and authenticate a document that can stand up in court. 

  1. Consult with a defamation lawyer

False information travels quickly. But while it’s essential to address it as soon as possible, you also don’t want to make any rash decisions. Proving that the statements are objectively false can be challenging. 

When defamation occurs, consult with experienced defamation attorneys. They would help you explore your legal options and determine whether you have an actual defamation case. 

  1. Talk to a reputation management expert

Reputation is valuable, especially when you’re a public figure, professional, or business owner. Malicious falsehoods can significantly affect several areas of your life. You can minimize defamation’s impact by seeking advice from a reputation management expert. They can help you respond to damaging and false statements and reestablish trust. 

How Can a Lawyer Help With Your Defamation Case?

You may file a defamation claim without a lawyer, but the legalities can be highly complex. Suing for defamation of character without legal advice can make it even more challenging. Retaining skilled defamation attorneys has proven to be valuable in a variety of defamation cases. 

The first step of defamation action involves determining if you have a valid defamation of character lawsuit. A lawyer can help you establish the necessary evidence for the communicator’s liability. 

Lawyers can also determine the potential damages of your defamation case. They can better negotiate the compensation you deserve by looking at various factors. Suppose the matter still needs to be settled out of court. In that case, a lawyer from a reliable law firm can represent you and help you understand the details of the judicial proceeding.

Pro Tip

Like any other personal injury case, time is of the essence in defamation of character claims. You must file a claim within one to three years of the statement made to meet the deadline. The applicable statute of limitations will vary by state. 

Have You Been Defamed? Contact The Personal Injury Center Today! 

Several elements of defamation tend to harm public figures and private citizens. Suppose you’ve been the victim of defamation of character in verbal or written form. In that case, an attorney can help you determine the best legal action. 

Protecting your legal rights against a defamatory statement with an experienced lawyer is essential. The Personal Injury Center understands how overwhelming it is to find a defamation attorney you can trust. Get a free consultation on our site so we can match you with experienced lawyers specializing in defamation cases. 


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Assert your legal rights with The Personal Injury Center. Get a free consultation for your defamation case today. 

FAQs on Defamation of Character

The value of a defamation case will depend on individual circumstances. So it's impossible to determine an average settlement for a defamation case. While some plaintiffs receive multi-million dollar awards, others get nothing or nominal damages as low as $1. 

Although every state has a different time frame for a defamation claim, most cases can take one to three years to resolve. But more complicated issues may take several more years to conclude. 

States have different statutes of limitations for a defamation claim. Defamation victims often have between one and three years from when the defamatory statement was made to file a claim.