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Where Should I Go if I'm Accused of Libel?

Where Should I Go if I'm Accused of Libel?

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Where Should I Go if I'm Accused of Libel?

Being accused of libel can damage your reputation, career, life, or both. It's even worse if you have a business. This article explains where to go if accused of libel, including everything you need to know about this kind of accusation.

They say bad news spreads faster than good news — that's something you'll experience firsthand if accused of libel. The sad truth is that some of these accusations are never true. But given that we live in a lawsuit-happy world, being accused of libel shouldn't come as a surprise to you.

It's never a great idea to ignore the accusations, whether or not they are true. Ignoring such accusations could make things even worse for you down the road. What sounds like a mere allegation could turn into an expensive lawsuit real quick. 

For this reason, you need to understand the steps to take if you encounter such a problem, as discussed below. 

Contact an Attorney

Contacting an attorney is the first and most important thing to do when someone makes false accusations against you or your company. However, you shouldn't hire just any attorney — you need someone experienced in defamation suits.

This is because defamation suits are complex, and you don't want to work with an attorney who'll cost you thousands or even millions of dollars in compensation. To further understand the importance of hiring a defamation attorney, let's discuss the elements of a defamation case. 

Elements of a Defamation Case

The first element of a defamation case is proving that the defendant made a false and defamatory statement and that they knew or should have known that the statement was false. So if someone accuses you of defamation, they must prove that you indeed knew or should have known that the statement you made about them was false. The same also applies if the statement was made by your employee if you run a business. 

It's important to note that some false statements may not harm the reputation of the person or entity the statement targets. This means that the statement may not be considered defamatory if it is part of a larger whole or partly inaccurate. 

Secondly, the plaintiff must prove that they were the target of the statement you or your employee supposedly made. So if the statement was vague or didn't identify a specific entity or individual, it cannot pass as defamation. For a defamation case to be established, the target of the alleged defamation must be clearly defined by the alleged defamatory remarks. This also means that just because an individual or entity feels that they were the target of a particular defamatory statement does not give them the right to sue. 

Here's a hypothetical example of an unidentified target.

A famous artist releases a controversial song supposedly targeting a rival artist. However, the artist does not mention any names or provide specific details that would clearly identify the rival artist.

But on the other hand, the rival artist feels like they are the song's target and decide to file a defamation lawsuit. In that case, it may be difficult to prove that indeed they were the target of defamation if no information clearly identifies them in the song.

Here's another example. 

Have you ever wondered why some movies contain disclaimers stating that any resemblance to actual, living people is purely confidential? They do this because they know there's a high chance that they may face countless lawsuits for alleged defamation. Therefore, they cannot be sued for defamation unless the movie clearly mentions names or provides other identifying information about an individual or entity, such as their contact information, address, etc. 

The third element of a defamation lawsuit involves proving that the defendant, in this case, you, published the defamatory remarks to at least one-third party who is not the target. An excellent example of such a scenario is when someone publishes slanderous remarks about another party in a newspaper. In this case, the newspaper is considered the third party that's not the target of the defamation but is only used as a vehicle to transport the defamatory remarks. 

Lastly, the plaintiff must prove that the defamation damaged their reputation or had a similar effect. For example, if they lost their job due to the alleged defamatory remarks. 

Understanding How Libel Works

Just because you have been sued for libel does not necessarily mean that you're guilty. Let's look at different scenarios to understand this concept even further. 

If you say something truthful and it ends up damaging someone's reputation, you cannot be sued for defamation. For such accusations to be considered defamation, they must be actually false. As discussed earlier in the elements of a defamation lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that the accusations against them were false and that you knew or should have known that they were false.

Here's another example. 

John and Jane end their two-year romantic relationship. Jane owns a popular restaurant down the street. Out of bitterness, John publishes a false statement claiming that the food served at Jane's restaurant contains deadly bacteria. He warns customers from visiting Jane's restaurant. As a result, Jane's restaurant experiences a sharp drop in sales, sending her into debt.

From the example above, Jane can sue John for libel because of his false accusations that damaged her business's reputation and discouraged sales. 

Now let's look at the other side of the coin.

Suppose John's statements are true and can be proven. In that case, Jane cannot sue him for libel. Additionally, if Jane's reputation is already ruined due to a related reason, she cannot sue John for libel.

For example, if Jane's restaurant has a history of selling contaminated food, it may be difficult to sue John for libel, unless under rare, extraordinary circumstances. 

It's also important to understand that you cannot be sued for libel if you had the other party's consent to publish certain content about them. 

Let's assume you're a journalist interviewing a celebrity, and they make a controversial statement that turns out to be false. You then publish the interview, and the celebrity loses their endorsements. In that case, they cannot sue you for libel even if the statement they made was false. This is because consent is considered a valid defense when it comes to defamation lawsuits. 

Understanding Malice in Defamation Lawsuits

In some defamation lawsuits, the defendant cannot be found guilty unless they acted with malice. However, the term 'malice' is broad and may be interpreted differently depending on the context of the defamation lawsuit. 

Malice is often considered in libel cases involving celebrities and public figures. Given that certain aspects of their lives are usually in the public domain, they are held to a different standard for proving libel. 

For instance, they will have to prove that the defendant had actual knowledge of the false statement or demonstrated a reckless disregard for whether the statement was false. 

But then there's also the issue of qualified privilege in a libel lawsuit. Here's everything you need to know about it.

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FAQ

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  • What Does Qualified Privilege Mean?

    Qualified privilege refers to a special legal right or immunity given to individuals, granting them immunity from a defamation lawsuit. This immunity is granted for acts committed while performing a moral or legal duty, provided such actions are appropriately exercised and free from malice.

    Under qualified privilege, an individual makes a statement in good faith and believes that the statement is true. This is the opposite of malice, where the individual knows that the statement is false or fails to verify its validity before publishing. 

    Qualified privilege can be used as a defense against a libel lawsuit. However, it may not be effective if malice or 'reckless disregard' for the truth is established. 

  • How a Defamation Attorney Can Help

    As mentioned before, hiring a defamation attorney is the first thing to do if you have been accused of libel. Here's how an attorney can help.

    Prove Truth
    Truth is considered an absolute defense to defamation. In simple terms, the defense cannot be sued for libel if they prove that their statements are true. A defamation defense attorney will review the plaintiff's complaint against you and establish whether the statement is true or false.

    However, the issue of whether the statement is true or false does not depend on the attorney's personal opinion. Instead, the defense must provide facts to prove to support their statements.

    That is where an attorney comes in to dig into the finer details of the statement, including the context, and create a valid defense. Look at the statement below as an example:

    "John faked his identity to steal $100,000 from Bank XYZ."

    The above statement will be considered truthful if John was actually convicted of the crime. However, it will be up to the defense to prove the conviction. 

    Verify Communication
    A defamation defense attorney can also help verify if the alleged defamatory statement was communicated. For instance, you cannot be sued for defamation if you wrote something in your diary and kept it to yourself. For libel to be established, there has to be a sender of the message on one end and a receiver on the other. 

    Examine the Nature of the Statement
    Not every negative statement qualifies as defamation - some may be considered opinions and not facts. Ever heard of the saying that everyone is entitled to their own opinion? 

    Here's an example of a similar scenario:

    If you say that your colleague is unprofessional and rude to customers, the statement may be interpreted as a personal opinion based on the existing situation. In that case, it cannot qualify as defamation. 

    But, on the other hand, if you say that your colleague stole money from the cash register, such a statement is not considered an opinion. And, if proven to be false, the accused could file a defamation lawsuit against you. 

    It's, therefore, the responsibility of a defamation defense attorney to analyze the nature of the statement and establish whether it is an opinion or a fact.

    Establish Harm
    A defamation defense attorney can also help determine whether the plaintiff was harmed by the statement their client allegedly made. Suppose there is reason to believe that the plaintiff was harmed. In that case, the attorney will establish whether a connection between the statement and the alleged harm existed.

    For example, if you falsely accuse someone of being irresponsible with their finances and they end up being denied a loan due to their low credit score, the attorney could use this as a defense. This is because your statement may not have anything to do with the loan denial.  

    Prove Immunity
    As mentioned earlier, an attorney can also prove that you have certain privileges that protect you from a libel lawsuit. These privileges could either be:

    • absolute privilege, which grants you immunity against a libel lawsuit, even if your statement was malicious, or;
    • qualified privilege, which grants you immunity against a libel lawsuit if you make a defamatory statement while performing your legal or moral duty. 

    Prove Consent
    If you had the plaintiff's consent to publish the statement, they cannot sue you for libel. A defamation defense lawyer can help establish consent in such a situation. 

  • How Morgan & Morgan Defamation Defense Attorneys Can Help

    At Morgan & Morgan, we understand that not every defamation lawsuit is valid. Sadly, many people lose their careers, businesses, family relationships, and so much more over such false allegations. If you or your loved one has been accused of libel, feel free to reach out to us by sending us a message online or calling 877-515-6977 for a free case evaluation. 

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