Are Defamation Cases Hard to Win?

Are Defamation Cases Hard to Win?

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Are Defamation Cases Hard to Win?

The results of defamation can be devastating and can cause a victim to suffer emotionally, physically, and financially. You may experience a variety of damages, such as emotional distress, the inability to sleep, and loss of income, all caused by a malicious false statement presented as a fact that ruined your reputation. When someone makes false statements about you that cause harm, it's natural to want the wrongdoer to suffer the consequences for it. You may think about filing a lawsuit when you've been the victim of defamation. Still, you may rightly question, "Are defamation cases hard to win?"

Winning a defamation case can be quite challenging because it requires a lot of investigation and evidence, which can be costly. Fortunately, the defamation lawyers at Morgan and Morgan work on a contingency fee basis, meaning you don't pay unless we win. With that said, we have to believe you have a strong chance of winning to undertake your case. Let's take a look at everything you need to know about defamation lawsuits.

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Get answers to commonly asked questions about our legal services and learn how we may assist you with your case.

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  • What Is Defamation of Character?

    The term "defamation of character" is a catch-all phrase that includes any false statements presented as facts that harm someone's reputation. A false statement can be written or spoken. When defamation is written, it's called libel. If it's spoken, then it's called "slander." Written defamation is often considered more harmful than spoken by courts, juries, and insurance providers because it's believed to have the power of longevity.

    Defamation cannot be prosecuted criminally, but you can sue someone under "tort" law. A tort is an act or omission that causes someone else harm or injury for which the court can impose liability. The true meaning of defamation needs to be understood. For example, say you and a colleague are alone in an elevator, and they call you a thief. In that case, the interaction would not be defamation because your character isn't tarnished in anyone else's eyes. Likewise, suppose someone wrote you a personal note and accused you of doing something or being a certain way that you don't like. In that case, that is not defamation either because no one else saw it. 

    It's also important to understand that in many states, making a true statement that causes harm to your reputation is not considered defamatory. Generally, the statement must be false and result in damages to win a defamation case. 

    However, if someone falsely accuses you of cheating on your spouse in a social media post, and that post causes you to get divorced, that would be a legitimate case of libel since it resulted in harm. Another example would be if someone came into your place of business and falsely told everyone you were a drug dealer, and that caused you to lose customers. In that case, it would be a legitimate case of slander. 

  • How Has Defamation Law Evolved in the United States?

    Defamation law in the U.S. has evolved dramatically since the time of the English colonists that arrived in North America in the 1700s. When they came, they brought many English laws with them. As such, defamation could be a criminal offense, especially when it involves criticism of the government. That all changed when the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that defamation law had a constitutional aspect when they ruled on the landmark case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan in 1964.

    Sullivan sued the New York Times for libel because of some mistakes in an advertisement protesting the treatment of Martin Luther King Jr. by law enforcement in Alabama. Even though Sullivan was not named individually, he was the city commissioner in Montgomery, Alabama, who supervised the police. Alabama law at that time said Sullivan only had to prove there were mistakes in the ad, and it likely led to harm to his reputation. He won in the state court, but the New York Times appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court and won.

    To explain the decision in very simple terms, the court decided that persons in public office could not win damages for libel without proving a false statement was made knowingly or made with reckless disregard for whether it was false or not. Since this landmark decision, lower courts in all states have tried to balance protections for freedom of speech with liability for defamation, particularly for those that are in the public eye. This holds true for people that are famous or influential as well.  

  • How Do You Prove Libel or Slander?

    Defamation laws vary from state to state but generally, to prove libel or slander, the following has to be established:

    The statement was published - The act of "publishing" the statement means that a third party witnessed the statement. The act of publishing means the statement was made public by some means, such as printed in the news, posted on social media, online comments, television, conversation, leaflets, signage, an email that third parties would see, and any other sort of print or oral communication. The critical factor is that it was made public, and others heard or saw the statement.

    The statement was false - Generally, the statement made must be false to be considered damaging under the law. Someone saying something unkind or rude about you doesn't equate to defamation if it's true. Opinions cannot be considered defamation because they cannot be proven false. For example, if you own a restaurant, and a food critic writes something like, "I had the worst lasagna of my life at XYZ restaurant," that statement wouldn't be defamatory since it's the food critic's opinion. Nobody can know what their experience with lasagna has been. 

    The statement caused an injury - If someone says something false about you that does not result in harm, you probably wouldn't have a case. For example, if someone says you smoke marijuana and nobody cares, that likely wouldn't make a great defamation case. However, if someone makes a website about you falsely claiming that you steal from your clients and you lose clients because of it, that would make a pretty strong case because the lies cost you financially. Another example would be if someone claimed you were an abusive spouse and the stress caused you to have a heart attack. That would be an actual injury that could qualify a case for slander or libel.

    The statement does not fall under a privileged category - The last element that needs to be satisfied is that the statement does not fall under a privileged class. For example, in a courtroom or under deposition, a witness can make false statements and cannot be held liable for defamation. Of course, they risk prosecution for perjury, but they can't be held liable in a defamation case. Other proceedings that protect lawmakers from being held liable for defamatory statements are statements made in a legislative chamber or official matters. Under these circumstances, freedom of speech is paramount. 

  • What Kind of Evidence Needs to Be Gathered for a Successful Defamation Case?

    In a defamation case, evidence can be direct or circumstantial. Here is an explanation for both:

    Direct evidence - Direct evidence supports the fact that you were defamed. For example, a witness states they heard the defamer say you stole money from your clients. As a result, they took their business elsewhere. Another example of direct evidence is a social media post that states you like to hurt animals, but you work as a veterinarian, and there are lots of comments from others on the platform saying they would never go to your business again. 

    Circumstantial evidence - Circumstantial evidence indirectly proves someone was responsible for making the statement. In the age of the Internet, lots of people hide behind user names to make libelous statements online. However, suppose the defendant has a tabby cat named Picklesworth and was born in 1971. The user that made a defamatory statement about you goes by the username "@tabbypickelsworth1971." In that case, you may be able to bring this strong circumstantial evidence into the courtroom to prove they are the responsible party. 

  • What Forms of Evidence Can Be Used in a Defamation Case?

    You have four different forms of evidence that could be used in a defamation trial which are as follows:

    Physical evidence - Physical evidence is perhaps the most robust evidence you can produce in court because it's tangible. For example, producing a book containing defamatory statements about you is physical evidence. 

    Documentary evidence - Documentary evidence includes almost anything on paper, tapes, and video recordings, such as computer printouts and files. For example, suppose you can produce an email circulated around your workplace containing defamatory comments about you. If the email can be authenticated, it might be admissible in court. 

    Testimonial evidence - Testimonial evidence is spoken or written evidence that is offered in court. It is usually procured under oath or affirmation that the testimony is truthful under penalty of perjury. For example, a person might testify that they saw a video the defendant published on YouTube that contained defamatory statements against the plaintiff.

    Demonstrative evidence - Demonstrative evidence is evidence that exhibits or illustrates factors in the case, such as a display of the timeline of events that supports the facts your lawyer is trying to prove. 

  • How Will My Attorney Collect Evidence to Prove My Defamation Case?

    When we take on a defamation case, we accept the responsibility to collect as much evidence as possible, which may include the following:

    Documents - Documents are vital to prove defamation. As such, we collect any type of documents related to the case, such as any printed media, recordings, or screen captures of social media posts. If the defamation was online, it's crucial to preserve the evidence as quickly as possible because it could be taken down. 

    Interviewing witnesses - Any individual who witnessed the defamation will be interviewed as witnesses may provide very credible statements and testimony.

    Legal research - As part of your case, we will do all manner of legal research to make your case a successful one. When are defamation cases hard to win? When you don't use defamation lawyers with the experience to build a winning legal strategy. 

    Consulting experts - Proving emotional, physical, and financial damages sometimes requires the help of experts who can explain to a jury the extent of harm that was caused by the defamation. For example, you may need someone who can testify to how much future income you've lost because of the damage to your professional reputation.

  • How Much Is a Defamation Case Worth?

    All civil claims have many variables that will impact the amount of compensation you may receive. It's usually up to a jury to decide how much your case is worth based on the evidence of damages presented. It's far easier for a jury to determine a value when there are demonstrable losses such as loss of business. Defamation that results in emotional damages or loss of goodwill is harder to quantify. A jury might award a small sum if they find the damage to your reputation is minor, or they may award millions if the defamation was particularly egregious.   

  • Contact Morgan and Morgan Defamation Attorneys Today

    If you or a loved one have been the victim of defamation, the attorneys at Morgan and Morgan are here to help. Nobody should suffer injuries from false statements made by other individuals. Whether your business was harmed or you have lost face with social contacts because of lies, we're here to hold the at-fault party accountable. Contact us today for a free and confidential case evaluation.

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