Aceto, Bonner & Cole PC

The five requisite elements of a defamation lawsuit?

January 28, 2017

Defamation is a word used to describe both libel, which occurs in writing, and slander, which is spoken. Whether it is libel or slander, defamation harms a person's reputation and can lead to a personal injury lawsuit. While defamation is not a criminal act, it is serious and can harm a person's emotional, physical and financial well-being. With the rise of social media and online news sources, it has become much easier to defame and as such, the threat of various defamation suits is only incr easing. Courts have tried to balance an individual's right to free speech with other's right to not be subject to defamation. As a result, in order to prove defamation five key elements must be at play.

A statement of fact

Of course, for defamation to have occurred, somebody must have made the statement that is considered defamatory. To be considered defamatory, the statement must concern a matter of fact, not simply an opinion.

A published statement

The legal term "published" means something a little different than most people understand it to mean. To be published, the statement need not necessarily be published in print, such as a newspaper or book. For the purposes of defamation, the statement is considered published if a third party sees, reads or hears it. A Twitter post, Facebook status update, or even a deleted snapchat are each considered "published" statements for purposes of a defamation action.

The statement caused injury

Again, the way the word "injury" is used in defamation suits differs somewhat from how it is used in everyday speech. An injury is considered to have occurred if the plaintiff's reputation was harmed by the statement. For many business people, a harmed reputation can lead to financial difficulties. For example, a contractor could lose work if a competitor tells potential clients on an online forum that the contractor routinely fails to complete work on a timely basis.

The statement must be false

It is not enough to show that a published statement simply does injury to the plaintiff; rather, for it to be determined to be "defamatory" it must also be shown that the statement is false. As with the above example, claiming a contractor fails to complete work on a timely basis is only considered defamatory if it can be shown that, in fact, the contractor has a history of completing work in a timely manner.

The statement is not privileged

Finally, there are some instances when a person may say something that is both untrue and injurious to another party, but where that person is protected from being sued for defamation. Statements that are considered privileged vary considerably. One common example of a privileged statement is witness testimony. Although witnesses at trial are obliged to tell the truth to the best of their ability, they cannot be sued if they make statements that would be considered defamatory outside of the courtroom. The reason for this privileged status is because courts want to ensure that witnesses feel free to speak openly about what they know or believe to be true, without a concern about being held liable for possible defamation.

Getting legal advice

In the days of social media and the worldwide web, it has become easier than ever for an individual hiding behind a computer or smartphone screen to make defamatory statements, without considering the consequences of same. Defamation can decimate one's reputation and livelihood. While pursuing a defamation suit against somebody, particularly one that is based on worldwide web activity, can be difficult, it is not impossible. A law firm, such as Aceto Bonner, which is experienced in handling defamation suits, can assist individuals who have been subjected to defamatory statements to pursue justice and damages.

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