It is not unusual for high-profile defamation lawsuits to attract attention from national news sources. For example, the Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard trial enthralled much of the U.S. in 2022.
Nonetheless, you do not have to be a celebrity to have your personal or professional reputation come under attack. Co-workers, friends, or enemies could cross a line and leave you at risk of a lifetime of undue scrutiny.
These false allegations may hurt you in many ways. You could have problems finding a new job or even housing. If you have experienced this exceptional insult to your reputation, you may have an entitlement to pursue compensation. Of course you’ll want to know how to prove a defamation claim. Reading this article will help you discover what the law says about your situation and how an attorney can clear your name.
What is Defamation of Character? What Does the Law Say?
Defamation of character refers to statements or publications that harm a person’s reputation. But what does the law say about defamation of character? In truth, it varies because in the United States, defamation law falls under state legislation. As a result, the exact definition and requirements for a claim can vary significantly.
Defamation lawsuits can be complex and expensive, and the outcome is not guaranteed. Consult an experienced attorney to determine whether you have a strong case and assess the cost-benefit ratio.
Slander vs. Libel
Libel and slander are two forms of defamation.
The difference is in how it happens. Slander refers to spoken words, while libel refers to written or published defamation.
These refer to a false verbal statement that causes harm to a person’s reputation, or Slander. In most states, the person making the defamatory statement must have intended to harm the person’s reputation. Alternatively, they could have acted with reckless disregard for the truth.
Most states follow similar principles for their slander laws, but some have unique approaches. Therefore we have to look at specifics when asking what does the law say about defamation of character.
As a result, the plaintiff in a slander or libel case may be subject to different standards. Under Florida law, slander should involve one or more of the following categories:
- Moral depravity, such as theft or fraud
- Having a “loathsome” or contagious disease
- Claiming professional incompetence or engaging in unethical or immoral conduct
- Sexual misconduct
- Having a “want of chastity.”
As mentioned above, libel is a false statement communicated or published to a third party. Different states may require various levels of intent, such as actual malice or negligence. There are also differing standards for public officials or figures in proving a libel case. There’s even such a thing as cyber libel and online defamtion.
Furthermore, states have different statutes of limitations for filing a libel lawsuit. There can also be requirements for retractions or corrections before filing a lawsuit.
Under California Civil Code, libel is a false and unprivileged publication by one of these methods:
- Other fixed representations
California also has a “single publication rule” for libel claims. This legal doctrine means that the statute of limitations starts on the date of the first publication. It does not matter if the statement gets published multiple times.
How Does State Law Define a Successful Defamation of Character Lawsuit?
The plaintiff must prove several elements for a successful defamation of character lawsuit. New York Consolidated Laws have standards that make this legal action successful. In most circumstances, the plaintiff must prove the following to the courts:
- Defendant made a false statement of fact.
- The defendant communicated this lie to at least one other person.
- Statement caused harm to the plaintiff’s reputation.
- The defendant acted with the fault in making the statement (either knowing it was false or with reckless disregard for the truth)
In some cases, the plaintiff may also need to prove that they suffered actual damages, such as lost income or emotional distress. The plaintiff should gather evidence to support their case to increase the chances of success in a defamation lawsuit. They will need witnesses, documents, or other proof of the false statement and its harm.
What Defenses are Available During a Defamation of Character Lawsuit?
There are several legal defenses that a defendant can raise against a defamation of character claim, including:
- If the defendant can prove the statement is true, they have a complete defense.
- Statements of opinion are generally not considered defamatory.
- The plaintiff consented to the statement.
- Views expressed during court proceedings or by government officials may have privileged defense protections.
- The plaintiff waited too long to file their claim. Therefore, it is past the statute of limitations.
The availability and strength of these defenses can vary depending on the jurisdiction. Hence why you need to know what laws say about defamation of character. Texas is a notable example in this regard.
Texas has a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) law. This legislation provides a mechanism for defendants to dismiss frivolous defamation lawsuits quickly.
A defendant who is the subject of a defamation lawsuit in Texas can file a motion to dismiss it. They must successfully argue the litigation violates their free speech or petition rights. If the court agrees, it orders the plaintiff to pay the defendant’s legal fees and court costs.
Thirty-two states have an anti-SLAPP law in place as of 2023. You will find a comprehensive list of them below the conclusion of this article.
Consult With an Attorney About a Defamation of Character Lawsuit
Did you recognize similarities between the details in this article and your recent experiences? Do you feel like you know what laws say about defamation of character?