Oral Defamation vs Libel: What Do I Need to Know?

Oral Defamation vs Libel: What Do I Need to Know?

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Oral Defamation vs Libel: What Do I Need to Know?

One of our most treasured freedoms in this country is free speech. Everyone is entitled to freedom of speech, including the spoken and written word. However, making false statements is different. Communicating untrue and damaging written or verbal comments about another, harming their reputation or business, could give the victim grounds for filing a lawsuit. 

If another person spreads false statements about you or your business, you could potentially sue them for oral defamation or libel. Our experienced attorneys could help you move forward with a legal case and fight to clear your name. You could recover compensation for your financial losses and other damages. Contact us now for a free consultation to learn about your legal rights. 

What Is Oral Defamation vs. Libel?

An oral defamation is also called slander. Slander and libel both fall under the same legal context, so-called “defamation law.” Defamation law generally deals with false statements that harm an individual’s reputation. Oral defamation and libel are both types of defamatory statements. However, there are some important differences between the two.


According to the Legal Information Institute (LII), libel is a defamatory statement that can be printed, written, a picture or sign, an effigy, or any other type of communication expressed in physical form. The physical comment must be false and harm a person’s private life or business, or expose them to public hatred, ridicule, or contempt. Commonly filed libel lawsuits include news stories alleging:

  • Crime or fraud
  • Dishonorable conduct
  • Dishonesty
  • Immorality

Individuals can also file lawsuits when defamed professionally and suffering financial, personal, or business losses. For example, referring to someone as a murderer, thief, sexual offender, or drug abuser can be grounds for a libel case. 

Oral Defamation or Slander

Slander describes an oral defamatory statement made by one party against another. Slander is the verbal act of harming an individual’s private or business reputation by spreading a false statement. It is important to note that slander does not occur if the person making the statement and the subject are alone during the verbal exchange. To have a case, a third party must hear the defamatory comment. Employers, former employees, and business competitors frequently become a target for oral defamation.  

Defamation Per Se

False statements qualify as defamation per se if they are “inherently ruinous” to a person’s reputation. In cases of defamation per se, a plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) generally does not need to prove their damages and could automatically qualify for compensation. The LII names various examples of defamation per se, including: 

  • Making a false statement relating to a person’s profession or business
  • Falsely alleging that a person committed a crime of moral turpitude
  • Accusing a person of unchastity 
  • Claiming that a person suffers from a loathsome disease such as an STD

If someone defamed you, whether orally or in writing, consider consulting with our experienced defamation attorneys before your business or home life suffers irreparable damage. 

How to Prove a Defamation Lawsuit

State laws concerning defamation lawsuits can vary. In general, you must prove that the injurious statement was published (written or verbally), false, damaging, and unprivileged to have a case. 

1. The Defamatory Statement Was Published

A published statement can be written, pictured, or spoken. “Published” in the context of defamation does not necessarily refer to a published book or magazine but can describe all potential ways a third party could read or hear the defamatory statement. Of course, defamatory comments could also be printed in magazines, newspapers, or books.

2. The Statement Is False

A true statement or an opinion would not qualify you for filing a defamation lawsuit against another. To have a case, the communication must be false and damaging. 

3. The Statement Is Damaging

The only time a victim does not have to prove damages is when the defamatory statement is considered “defamation per se.” However, plaintiffs have to show that they were damaged financially or otherwise in all other cases. Examples of actual damages can include:  

  • Losing business revenue or clients
  • Losing a job and benefits
  • Harassment by local or national media
  • Suffering humiliation 

4. The Statement Is Unprivileged

Statements made under privilege are protected from defamation lawsuits and can include:

  • Witness testimony in court
  • Attorney and client communication 
  • Communication between spouses

If you are unsure whether you are the victim of oral defamation or libel, get in touch with us. We can determine your next best steps if you qualify for a lawsuit.

Proving Oral Defamation vs. Libel 

Libel is often considered more harmful than oral defamation and can be easier to prove. Written and printed statements can potentially last forever. Courts typically only consider oral defamation lawsuits if the plaintiff can prove actual damages. On the other hand, with libel, the act of the written publication itself can be regarded as injurious, and a plaintiff may not have to prove actual damages to have a case.

Damages for Oral Defamation and Libel 

You could qualify for economic and non-economic damages if you suffered damages due to the defamation.

Economic Damages 

If you win your defamation lawsuit, you could receive:

Lost Earnings

A plaintiff prevailing in a defamation suit could receive lost income, future lost earning capacity, and compensation for other economic and business opportunities lost as a result of the defamation. If a company is affected, the plaintiff could claim loss of clients or expected loss of future clients and business revenue due to spreading false information. Damages for lost income can also include:

  • Employment benefits (health and dental insurance)
  • Bonuses
  • Vacation time
  • Pension
  • 401k contributions

Medical Bills

The consequences of defamation can be extremely upsetting and stressful. If the victim sought medical help or counseling due to the defamatory statements, they could recover those costs with a lawsuit.

Non-Economic Damages

Victims of defamation could also recover non-economic damages for the pain and suffering they experienced, which can include awards for:

  • Mental distress
  • Loss of life quality
  • Humiliation
  • Shame

It is important to note that non-economic damages are not available in all states.

Your Next Best Steps After Experiencing Oral Defamation or Libel

If you are a victim of damaging defamation, consider taking these steps to preserve your legal rights and collect critical evidence: 

  • Note the time and date of the defamatory statement
  • Write down the contact details of any witnesses  
  • Gather evidence of your damages such as counseling costs, income losses, and others 
  • Call a defamation attorney

If you experienced character assassination, the experienced and committed defamation attorneys at Morgan & Morgan could help you fight for justice and compensation.

Morgan & Morgan Can Help to Clear Your Name

Defamation can be upsetting, and you may not know where to turn to get justice. Morgan & Morgan can be here for you and help restore your good reputation. Our defamation lawyers have helped numerous other defamed clients and can handle all aspects of your case, including:  

  • Determine whether you have a case
  • Identify all liable parties
  • Gather crucial evidence for proving slander or libel
  • File your lawsuit and the necessary paperwork
  • Negotiate an out-of-court settlement


  • Fight for full and fair compensation at trial 

When you get America’s largest personal injury firm on your side, you also get an army of lawyers, investigators, and legal team members who want nothing more than to help you get justice.

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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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  • How Can I Tell the Difference Between an Opinion and Defamation?

    Voicing an opinion falls under freedom of speech. Therefore, if someone shares an opinion about you that is not favorable, you generally do not have a defamation case. However, sometimes, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a false statement and an opinion. Generally, an opinion is subjective and cannot be measured. Therefore, calling another a stupid or lazy jerk does not qualify as slander. 

    Libel and slander are specific. For example, calling someone a murderer or a burglar who has not been convicted of the crime is slander. It is also important to note that a true statement, no matter how damaging, does not qualify as slander or libel. Therefore, calling a convicted murderer a murderer does not count as a defamatory statement

  • Do I Have a Defamation Case? 

    Being a victim of defamation, verbal or written, is not only infuriating and upsetting; it can also destroy your good name and your livelihood. However, if you are bringing a lawsuit against the slanderous party, the burden of proof will be on you. You will have to show that you suffered harm such as income loss and that the defendant had a motive or intended to cause harm. 

    Our defamation lawyers can help. We can determine whether you have a case and help you fight for what you deserve. 

  • How Do I File an Oral Defamation vs. a Libel Lawsuit?

    In general, the process of filing an oral defamation or libel lawsuit is the same, although you may need compelling evidence of your damages to prove oral defamation. Suing for defamation includes the same steps as other personal injury lawsuits. The plaintiff or their attorney will file a complaint as a first step. The defendant will then be served with the complaint letter and prepare an answer. The next stage is usually discovery, where the parties exchange evidence and examine witnesses. If the parties cannot agree on an out-of-court settlement, it could come to a trial. 

  • Can I Afford a Defamation Attorney?

    If you are concerned about costs with a defamation lawsuit, you should avoid attorneys that charge hourly fees or retainers and instead look for an attorney that works on a contingency basis. Contingency means that you do not have to pay your attorney unless and until they win your case. If you lose, you do not have to pay any attorney’s fees at all. Morgan & Morgan won’t charge you a dime upfront. When we take your case, you do not have to worry about not being able to afford an attorney. Our attorneys only get paid if you get paid. 

  • What Are the Time Limits for Filing a Defamation Lawsuit?

    The time limits for filing an oral defamation or libel lawsuit vary from state to state.
    However, it is critical to note that the time starts running down when the defamatory statement was spoken or printed, regardless of when the victim finds out. Therefore, if someone made a false statement about you eight months ago, and you just heard about this, you do not get an extra eight months for filing a lawsuit. Therefore, timely action can be essential for getting what you deserve. Contacting a defamation lawyer as soon as possible can protect your legal rights and ensure that you file your lawsuit in time. 

  • Is It Harder to Sue for Oral Defamation vs. Libel?

    Oral defamation claims can be tricky to prove. Plaintiffs will have to show that the individual accused of slander was either negligently or deliberately spreading falsehoods about them. Public figures such as politicians and celebrities face even higher hurdles for proving slander and have to show that the defendant acted with malice. If you believe that you have an oral defamation lawsuit, speaking to an attorney can help you understand whether you qualify for a lawsuit. 

  • Is Defamation a Personal Injury Lawsuit? 

    A false statement does not necessarily cause a physical injury. However, defamation causes damage to a person’s reputation, which is considered an injury according to law.  A damaged reputation can cause a person to suffer financial losses and adversely impact their home and career life. Therefore, defamation is considered a personal injury.

  • Contact Morgan & Morgan to Fight Back Today

    Do not let another turn your life upside down by spreading unsubstantiated falsehoods about you or your company. If someone tried to ruin your good reputation, you do not have to stand for it and could have legal recourse. Don’t struggle with a potentially complex defamation lawsuit on your own when you could have America’s largest personal injury firm in your corner. Morgan & Morgan could help to restore your reputation and fight to get the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.

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