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Can I Sue for Reputation Damage?

Can I Sue for Reputation Damage?

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Can I Sue for Reputation Damage?

There’s nothing more frustrating than having someone spread rumors or lies about you. It’s even worse when these falsities end up making their way to other people in your life, such as your friends, family, and your employer. In some circumstances, an individual might spread rumors that are so damaging to your reputation that you’re fired from your job or you’re left unable to get hired. 

If this happened to you and you’re considering suing for reputational damage, Morgan & Morgan can help. We have been handling these types of cases for decades, and we will do whatever we can to make sure justice is served. No matter where you live, we can help. We have experienced attorneys throughout the United States, and we’ve recovered more than $15 billion dollars for our clients. You are always our top priority. Contact Morgan & Morgan today for a free case evaluation. 

Reputation Damage – The Basics

There are different ways a person can damage your reputation. For example, someone could say something untrue or completely made up about you to others, post damaging lies on social media about you, or even email false statements about you to your boss or your friends. All of these actions fall under the umbrella of defamation. 

Defamation is the term that encompasses all statements that hurt a person’s reputation that give rise to a legal action. It could be a written statement or a verbal statement. Whatever it is, it falls under defamation. Defamation is an interesting law, as it walks a fine line between freedom of speech and something legally actionable. In order to be able to file a lawsuit for defamation, you must be able to prove that you’ve suffered actual injuries or damages. If someone says something about you but it has no negative impact on your reputation, your finances, or your life in any important way, it’s unlikely that you’d be successful in any kind of defamation lawsuit. 

Law Varies by State

Defamation laws vary by state, but generally, you must prove the following elements to recover compensation in a defamation claim: 

  1. A person made a statement 
  2. The statement was published in some form
  3. You suffered an injury as a result of the statement
  4. The statement was untrue
  5. The statement doesn’t fall into a privileged category


A statement can be written or verbal, or it can be expressed in some other manner. In some jurisdictions, a verbal statement isn’t considered to be as harmful or ‘serious’ because there’s no way to trace the statement like there is if it’s published online. Even if people heard the statement, the worst they can do is continue to spread that statement. When information is in writing, especially if untrue, it can be much more damaging. 


Published doesn’t mean it has to be in a newspaper or posted on your Facebook page. Published simply means that a third party saw, heard, or read the statement. 


To be successful in a defamation lawsuit, you must prove that you actually suffered harm as a result of the statement. Injury can include damage to your reputation, financial loss, and more. 


If the statement is true, it simply cannot be defamation.


In order to successfully file a defamation lawsuit, the statement made must not be privileged. For example, if someone testifies in court and says something false about you, you cannot sue them, even if you can prove the statement was false and that it severely damaged your reputation. They could certainly be charged with perjury, but you’d have little to no recourse for this civilly. 

Defamation and Public Figures

For public figures suing for reputational damages, the standard is much higher. A public figure is defined as a person whose name has become a household name. For example, famous singers, the president, famous actors and actresses, or even someone famous from TikTok. The courts have made recovering damages for public figures much more difficult for the following reasons:

  • The courts have determined that public figures are not as deserving of legal protection from defamation as private citizens are. The reasoning behind this is that public figures seek the attention of the public, and therefore they need to take the good attention with the negative attention. A private citizen who experiences defamation is not at all in the same position. 
  • Public figures can often rebut any defamation claims much more easily than private citizens. A famous person could have millions of followers on Instagram or Twitter, or they sometimes can simply go on Good Morning America or any other TV show to tell the world that the defamatory statement is untrue. For a private citizen, this just isn’t possible. You might be able to tell your close friends and family that the statement isn’t true, but there’s no possibility to reach all of the other people who heard that statement. There’s the potential for much greater fallout when the defamation is against a private citizen.

If a public figure wants to recover damages in a defamation claim, they must prove that the defendant made the claim with actual malice. This heightened burden still gives public figures recourse in extreme situations, but it doesn’t allow them to file a lawsuit against every private citizen who says something negative about them, even if it isn’t true. 

In contrast, a private citizen usually only needs to prove that the statement was made with ordinary negligence. Ordinary negligence is classified as a statement that any reasonable person would have known was false. 

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  • What kind of damages can I recover in a defamation lawsuit?

    The exact types and amounts of damages you can recover will depend on what state you’re in, but in most jurisdictions, you might be entitled to recover actual damages, presumed damages, and punitive damages.

    Actual Damages
    Actual damages are compensatory damages, meaning they can be defined in a monetary amount fairly easily. It refers to financial loss, lost income, loss of a job, and more. For example, you had a contract with someone who was going to pay you $20,000 to build something for them. Someone sends them an email with horrible, untrue lies about you, and convinces this person to break the contract. If you file a defamation lawsuit and you’re able to show that the statement was false, you could be entitled to collect at least the $20,000 you lost out on as a direct result of the false statement they made.

    Presumed Damages
    Presumed damages, which are also called assumed damages in some jurisdictions, are those that are awarded without proof of injury or harm. The court can simply assume that the plaintiff suffered some type of reputational harm as a result of the statement that was made. Presumed damages are not always available.

    Punitive Damages
    Punitive damages are awarded when the defendant’s conduct is particularly egregious. They are awarded as an attempt to deter the defendant and others from engaging in this type of behavior in the future. In most jurisdictions, the plaintiff must show that the defendant acted with malice or fraud in order to be awarded punitive damages. 

  • What is the difference between slander, defamation, and libel?

    Slander and libel fall under the umbrella term of defamation. Slander is an oral statement that defames a person’s character, and libel is a written statement. 

  • What is online defamation?

    Defamation can happen in the real world or online. With the emergence of the internet, we all know that a lot of communication is carried out online – through text messages, Facebook, TikTok, and more. When defamation is transmitted via the internet, this is known as online defamation. Other communications, such as a letter, a statement written in a printed newspaper, phone calls, and even text messages are not considered online defamation.  

  • When suing for reputational damage, can I receive damages for pain and suffering?

    In some circumstances and in some jurisdictions, you can recover compensation for pain and suffering. If the defamation is so severe as to lead a person to suffer greatly, for example from mental health issues, anxiety, insomnia, depression, or other negative effects of the statement, they might be able to recover damages for pain and suffering.

  • Your Reputation Matters – Morgan & Morgan Can Help

    At Morgan & Morgan, we truly understand the frustration and anxiety that arises from having lies spread about you that are damaging your reputation. This affects your peace of mind, your reputation, and often your livelihood. This is completely unacceptable, and we want to do everything we can to help you. We have hardworking and knowledgeable lawyers throughout the United States, so we can help you regardless of where you’re located. All of our lawyers are experienced in litigating and negotiating, so you can be certain that they will always do what’s best for you. 

    If you’re thinking of suing for reputational damage, contact Morgan & Morgan today for a free and confidential consultation. 

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Last updated on May 11, 2023

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