Defamation of character is an act that occurs when someone’s reputation and integrity are tarnished or damaged because of malicious intent by another party. You may have heard the terms libel and slander. Slander is orally dishonoring someone else, while libel is written defamation. Both forms of defamation play a critical role in personal injury lawsuits seeking to recover damages caused by such behavior.
Do Defamation and Slander Get Protected Under Free Speech?
The First Amendment enables freedom of speech, but not all speech is protected. Individuals have a right to be free from falsehoods impugning their character. Defamatory statements are protected under the First Amendment, but there are some ethical issues that come into play.
Additionally, the first amendment does not protect threats to public safety or plans for criminal activity. Saying something that could cause public panic, such as a message over the PA system in a theater or on an airplane claiming there is a bomb in the building, is not protected by free speech law. Incitement of a crime is also not protected by the First Amendment.
The First Amendment does not allow for speech that attempts to overthrow the government with violence or commit illegal acts against the government.
The Burden of Proof in a Defamation Personal Injury Claim
The first step in suing someone for defamation is proving that they lied when they said something about you. With slander, things are a little more complicated. Since you have to prove the person in question actually said whatever it is you're claiming, be sure that there's more than one piece of objective evidence to back yourself up. The court will expect you to prove your complaint beyond a reasonable doubt.
In order to win a claim of defamation, you must be able to prove all the following:
- A statement was made by someone
- That the statement was communicated verbally or in writing
- That your injury resulted from the statement
- The statement was untrue
- It isn't a protected statement
The next step in libel is proving that this statement was made with actual malice. Statements that are false and considered defamatory need to be said with the intention of doing harm.
When you are working on a defamation lawsuit, one of the most challenging areas to prove is your injuries. In order for you to be eligible for damages, it is necessary that you can show that you suffered a physical or financial loss as an immediate result of the defamation.
If you require medical care because of the defamation you suffered, the treated injuries are classified as physical damages and should be compensated by the person who defamed you.
Defamatory statements are untrue and usually malicious. Not every negative statement about you can merit this label. A statement is not defamatory if it can be proven to be either true or an opinion.
When Statements Fall Under Privileged or Unprivileged Speech
Cases involving free speech and defamation seem to contradict one another, so the court has decided that certain scenarios cannot be brought to court under a lawsuit. These scenarios are called privileged because the system protects them.
Scenarios include witness testimony that is false, which can cause you harm. Most lawmakers are also in this privileged category when it comes to their conversations in the legislative chambers and documents they create.
It is possible for individuals to sue those making these statements, though "privileged" statements are generally exempt from defamation claims. It is fortunate that unprivileged statements make up the majority of defamatory statements. These are the kinds of statements made in all facets of life outside of courtrooms and legal proceedings.
If you communicate with individuals through Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites electronically, these are treated identically to traditional written communication. If the false information was distributed to others by private message, you may be eligible for damages.
To Have a Defamation Case You Must Also Have Calculable Damages
If someone insults you or says something false about your business and they do it directly to you, then defamation laws would not cover this incident. You must show that you suffered a loss as the result of a false statement made to someone else.
This is crucial. The false statement must have caused some damage to you in addition to the embarrassment or anger it may have caused. You have to prove that the false statement caused you serious consequences like lost business or the loss of a relationship with your family.
Steps to Take if Your Character Gets Defamed
Reading or hearing untrue statements made about yourself is humiliating. Worse, the reputational harm caused by someone else's malicious falsehoods can impact your relationships with your spouse or even your employer. If you have been the victim of libel or defamation, take action to minimize any damage and to protect your reputation.
Since false information can spread faster than the truth, you need to file a report as soon as possible. Defamation of character statute of limitations varies from state to state. This means that you need to consult with a skilled defamation of character lawyer near you as soon as you find out someone has defamed your good name.
You also have to protect any evidence of the false statement. The internet can be a tricky place where statements might disappear as fast as they were created. If someone plastered flyers around your neighborhood sharing falsehoods about you, you need to get a copy before they all get taken down.
Be mindful that some false statements may become more known to the public depending on how you respond to them. A response could create a public controversy, but in other cases not responding isn't an option.If you are concerned that a statement could lead to further distress in the future, then it is best to report it.