If somebody said something about you that hurt your reputation, you might be able to file a defamation lawsuit. This article will explain what types of statements qualify as defamation.
Defamation is a false statement that causes damage to somebody’s reputation. Most states recognize several kinds of defamation. Libel is defamation in written form, while slander is defamation in spoken form. Recently, the terms internet defamation or online defamation have also been used.
Classifications of defamation include:
To support a defamation claim, a plaintiff must prove several elements. While the number and substance of those elements vary by state, they generally require the publication of a false statement of fact concerning the plaintiff to a third party, either knowing that it was false or with a negligent or reckless disregard as to whether that statement was true.
The first element required to establish a defamation claim is to show that the statement was false. By definition, a true statement does not qualify as defamation. There are several conditions involved in determining whether a statement is true or false, including:
The next element of defamation is that the statement in question must be connected to the plaintiff. This condition can be met even if the plaintiff is not explicitly identified by name as long as a reasonable person could infer that the statement concerned the plaintiff. Note that only statements about living people can be considered defamation, as one cannot defame the dead.
For a statement to be considered defamation, it must have been published, communicated to, or read by a third party (referred to as “the recipient”) other than the defamer or the defamed, either through private or public communication. Statements only heard or read by the plaintiff do not qualify as defamation, as they cannot cause reputational harm.
Most of the time, each publication of a defamatory statement can constitute its own defamation action, which is why it’s important not to share defamatory content, as it can, in some instances, make you as liable as the original defamer. However, if a single publication, such as a blog post, is received by multiple third parties at once, it is only considered to have been published once. This way, a plaintiff cannot bring multiple lawsuits for a single defamatory publication.
Next, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant acted with intent when making the defamatory statements. The defendant must have done one of the following:
Publishing a statement knowing it is inaccurate is considered acting with actual malice. If the plaintiff is a public figure in the spotlight who is likely to elicit public scrutiny, many courts will require actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth and not just negligence to prove defamation. This is because public figures have a greater ability to defend themselves from defamatory statements and because of enhanced protections based on the free speech principles supported by the First Amendment, under which people should be able to discuss and debate issues of public importance without fear of being sued for defamation.
There are certain situations in which people are immune from having their statements qualified as defamation, including:
As mentioned above, in defamation per quod cases, specific and quantifiable losses caused by the defamatory statement must be proven, whereas in defamation per se cases the reputational harm is presumed.
There are three main categories of defamation damages available for recovery (subject to state variances):