What Is Defamation of Character?

What Is Defamation of Character?

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What Is Defamation of Character?

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.

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

  • What Should I Do if I Have Been Defamed?

    Defamation can be a civil matter when you are defamed by someone and suffer an injury as a result. Contact Morgan & Morgan for a free consultation to determine if your case meets the standard for defamation of character because of libelous or slanderous statements someone has made about you.

    If you have been victim to false accusations, it is important to document those instances. If the statement is libelous, make sure you have a copy of it that contains an allegation against your character. It can be particularly important to screenshot it if the statement was published on the internet. If you have been slandered, identify the individuals who heard about it and would serve as a witness.

  • What Does a Defamation Lawyer Cost?

    If you believe you have a legitimate claim, our personal injury lawyers work on contingency. We will represent you for no fee until your case concludes. If you do not win your case, no fee will be owed. Our clients have found this arrangement beneficial because it allows them to pursue justice without a large financial investment up-front.

  • What Are Punitive Damages? 

    The motivations for someone to commit defamation are endless but can play a crucial role in getting punitive damages awarded for your case. If they defamed you knowing the statement was untrue, and that it was made out of malicious intent, you may be awarded punitive damages in addition to any other damage.

    Punitive damages are monetary awards given at the discretion of the trial court. These damages are typically awarded as punishment for misbehavior and deter others from committing such violations. The attorneys at Morgan and Morgan can help you assess the odds of receiving punitive damages, but it is ultimately determined by the court.

  • What if My Teen Was Defamed Online?

    News stories and articles covering online bullying between teenagers are filled with horror stories. Once information is online, it can quickly be shared in hundreds of different ways. The effects of bullying, sexting, and other malicious content are especially negative on children.

    Harassment online can worsen anxiety, depression, and lead to suicide in teenage victimsMean and hurtful rumors spread by people they know can cause great harm to an adolescent or child. It is important not to ignore a situation that could use intervention, so as your teen's advocate, consider consulting with a skilled attorney right away. If your child has been the victim of defamation of character, reach out to Morgan and Morgan to learn more about your child's rights in this serious matter.

  • Contact the Top Character Defamation Attorneys for Advice and Representation

    If you have been defamed on the internet, tackling the problem early is essential to preventing further harm. When you've suffered emotional, physical, financial, and/or reputational damage because of someone else spreading false information about you, our seasoned personal injury attorneys can help.

    At Morgan and Morgan, our team of aggressive injury lawyers is here to help you put a stop to this cruel treatment. We are your best advocate and resource to successfully bring a defamation of character case against those who want to ruin your life through lies.

    With over $20 billion in settlements and verdict awards, our firm has proven our dedication to maximizing compensation for our clients and getting them the justice they deserve. When you want the best attorneys for your defamation case, just reach out to Morgan & Morgan. Please fill out our brief contact form to find out more about our free consultation offer. 

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