Do I Need a Lawyer for My Defamation Case?

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Defamation Case?

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Do I Need a Lawyer for My Defamation Case?

Defamation of character can impact your ability to make a living and can hurt relationships, which makes defamation an important legal case to pursue. Justice can be served only when those who maliciously intend to harm others are forced to pay damages. A defamation case is a serious legal action, which means you'll want an expert defamation lawyer to help present your case. Furthermore, you'll need one who understands the complexities the age of the Internet has introduced to these kinds of cases.

While defamation is not a crime, you do have recourse under the law to take action with a civil claim. There are essentially two forms of defamation. Written defamation is known as "libel," and spoken defamation is known as "slander." At Morgan & Morgan, our defamation lawyers can help you gather and document evidence, define legal strategies, and overall significantly increase your chances of a successful conclusion. For more information, contact us for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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

Defamation Case Lawyer FAQs

  • Who has the burden of proof in a defamation case?

    In a civil defamation case, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff. And how your case will be treated will depend on whether you are a public or private figure. That's because the Supreme Court decided in a 1964 case that everyday people have a greater expectation of privacy. A public figure could be anyone that is in the public eye, such as actors, politicians, high-ranking government officials, and athletes. Public figures have to prove the defendant acted with malice when publishing the incorrect and harmful statements. Genuine malice means the other party knew the statements were false or didn't care whether they were true or not.

    Defamation law attempts to balance two interests. On one side, we as members of society should be able to speak our minds without fear of a lawsuit for expressing our views. This is particularly true when we're talking about politicians and government officials. On the other hand, people should not have their lives ruined by someone's lies. 

    An ordinary person has a lower burden of proof and protection because they only need to prove that the harmful and untrue statements were negligent, not published out of malice. Negligence is when some causes harm to another person because they acted in a manner that another reasonable person would not have under the same circumstances. 

  • Is it hard to win a defamation case?

    To win a defamation lawsuit, you must first prove the defendant made an untrue and defamatory statement that was communicated to a third party or "published." The "statement" can be written, spoken, pictured, or even gestured or signaled. A third party could be a newspaper, social media, a speech, television, radio, even an email. 

    The published defamatory statement must be false. No matter how rude, embarrassing, or harmful a statement is, if it is true, then there is no legal recourse. Opinions are not usually considered defamatory because an opinion can't be proved to be objectively false. For example, a food critic saying that they had the worst pasta primavera of their life at XYZ restaurant would not mean they defamed the restaurant. There is no way to prove that their opinion is false. 

    Next, the statement has to be injurious. That's the whole point of a defamation lawsuit. The statement caused injury to the plaintiff's reputation, which resulted in the loss of work, harmed relationships with family and friends, or caused the plaintiff to suffer harassment from the media.

    Finally, the statement must be unprivileged. Some forms of communication are absolutely privileged. A defamation lawsuit would not be successful if the statement were made in this type of immune setting. Some examples of absolute privilege are:

    • During judicial proceedings
    • In between spouses
    • During political speeches
  • Where are written defamatory statements made?

    Most commonly, you will find libelous statements being made on the Internet these days. Here are a few examples:

    • On blog posts
    • In a blog post's comment section
    • In the public comment section of online media such as newspapers and magazines
    • Internet chat rooms
    • Public video comment sections

    Although many websites will screen their public comments for hate speech and illegal content, not all scrub for libelous comments.

  • Where are slanderous statements made?

    Since slander is the oral definition of defamatory statements, these can be made anywhere, and to anyone, there just needs to be a third party. For example, if a coworker tells you to your face that you are a fraud, and it's just the two of you, that would not hold up in a courtroom. However, if they made that statement in front of your boss, and you lose your job because of it, then you have something. Here are a few examples of when and where slanderous statements can be made:

    • Speeches
    • Board rooms
    • Briefings
    • Work meetings
    • School board meetings
  • What kind of lawyer do I need for defamation of character online?

    The Internet has changed the way we do many things, and it provides a platform for regular people to have a voice, whether for good or for bad. The Internet of things makes defamation lawsuits far more challenging because you have to be extraordinarily tech-savvy. Working with a law firm that has excellent access to resources becomes critical. Fortunately, at Morgan & Morgan, we are deeply invested in tech. We have lawyers specializing in online defamation cases, plus investigators proficient in using modern technology to face these particular challenges.

    When you're the victim of online defamation of character, you may have unique problems to overcome, such as identifying an anonymous defamer. This may require subpoenaing an internet service provider, website, or platform operator to gain access to the anonymous poster’s true identity. It also may require developing relationships with online publishers to remove offensive content or preserve copies of removed content to be used as evidence. 

  • How much can I claim for defamation of character?

    In a defamation case, you can sue for two kinds of damages: actual damages and non-economic damages. Actual damages are defined as financial losses you suffered and can even include medical bills if the ordeal the defendant subjected you to caused you to seek professional help. It's possible to receive compensations for things like:

    • Lost business
    • Loss of future business
    • Medical bills
    • Lost wages
    • Loss of employee benefits

    Non-economic damages are typically tied to pain and suffering, which can include humiliation, mental anguish, anxiety, stress, loss of sleep, and shame, for example. However, non-economic damages for slander are not available in every state. Some states require that the plaintiff have actual damages also to include non-economic awards. For example, suppose you are retired, and someone slanders you. You feel humiliated, and perhaps some people don't look at you the same way. Since the slander doesn't have any impact on your income, you may not be able to collect for pain and suffering. However, suppose the defendant accused you of having committed a crime or that you have a sexually transmitted disease. In that case, the defamer can be sued for non-economic damages without you having to have been impacted by economic damages. 

    Punitive damages may be awarded if the defendant acted with particular malice or other egregious behavior. Punitive damages are means for juries to punish bad behavior and set an example or warning to others.

    Remember, it's quite challenging to prove damages when it comes to defamation cases because harm to one's reputation is hard to calculate. Even if you win your case, there is no guarantee you'll be able to collect unless the defendant has assets from which to pay. That's why personal injury attorneys that work on a contingency fee basis will have to evaluate the case before taking it on. If there is no possibility of collecting, it's unlikely you'll be able to secure the services of a no-win, no-fee defamation lawyer.

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  • Defamation of character cases won

    While we don't hear about many defamation lawsuits won for private individuals, when it happens to celebrities or public figures, of course, it makes the news. Here are a few high-profile cases with positive outcomes for the plaintiffs.

    Rebel Wilson v. Bauer Media - In 2015, Rebel Wilson sued Bauer Media over eight articles they published accusing the actress of being a serial liar. She received $3.5 million, although the judgment was overturned on appeal. 

    Sean Penn v. Lee Daniels -  Sean Penn sued the co-creator of the Fox series "Empire" in 2015 for $10 million for comparing Penn to the star of the show, Terrence Howard, who had been accused of domestic violence. Penn's lawyer said he was maliciously and recklessly repeating rumors and innuendo. The parties settled and Penn received an apology, and the producer made generous donations to charities as part of the settlement.  

    Sandy Hook families v. Alex Jones - The families of the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting sued Alex Jones over his past claims that the shooting was staged and the victims were actors. The case was won by default as the defendant failed to participate in the discovery process for over two years. Damages for the case are pending. 

  • Why work with Morgan & Morgan defamation case attorneys?

    If you believe you've been the victim of character defamation, it is your right to pursue legal remedies to clear your name and gain compensation for your damages. We've been fighting for victims of libel and other personal injury cases for more than 30 years. Because defamation claims are notoriously hard to prove, you will need a fighter on your side, particularly if a large corporation has slandered you. 

    Character assassination is nothing to take lightly as it can have long-lasting effects on your ability to make a living and enjoy your life. We may be able to gain payment through a settlement; however, when it comes to the courtroom, you want to be sure to have a trial-ready lawyer, and ours have a solid reputation for litigating cases successfully. Contact us for a free, no-risk case evaluation today. Don't put it off any longer because there may be statutory time limits for filing a defamation lawsuit in your state. 

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