What Is Defamation of Character?

Although you may be familiar with the terms Libel and Slander, you might not be aware of the legal foundation for a Defamation claim.

  • No matter how severe or intense, a declaration of opinion is usually not considered Defamatory.
  • Public persons must prove their defamation claims against a higher standard than private ones.
  • Some statements made in the course of governmental investigations or legal procedures may be considered “privileged,” which means they are shielded from a defamation lawsuit.

Slander or Libel falls within the broad legal definition of “Defamation”. Libel is written defamation, while slander is spoken defamation. This article will discuss the legal definition of defamation as well as the requirements for bringing a successful civil defamation claim.

What is the definition of Defamation of Character?

Libel and slander are included in the broad legal concept of “defamation.” Libel is written defamation whereas slander is spoken defamation. The legal definition of defamation and the prerequisites for filing a successful civil defamation suit are both covered in this article.

Unless it is given as truth, a comment that is solely someone’s opinion is not defamatory. It’s probably a protected viewpoint if someone says, “I think John Smith is a corrupt politician.” Opinions are typically considered protected speech because courts don’t want to restrict public discussion, particularly about contentious topics. If, however, the claim is false and reads “John Smith is a crooked politician,” it may be considered defamatory. Although it is a subtle distinction, it is a crucial one. Find out more about free speech and defamation.

Difference between Libel and Slander

Defamation includes both libel and slander. Libel is a false, malicious statement that is published. A spoken criticising comment that is not truthful is known as slander. A defamatory statement can be uttered in any medium, which is how defamation differs from slander. It might be mentioned in a speech, a blog post, or on television. Slanderous utterances can only be made orally, but libellous acts only happen when a statement is made in writing (which involves digital statements).

You might be familiar with seditious libel. False statements regarding the government, the president, or Congress were illegal to publish under the Sedition Act of 1798. Later, the Supreme Court changed this when it established the principle that a statement disparaging a public figure is only libellous if it is made with the knowledge that it is untrue or with reckless disobedience of the truth.

Compensations for Defamation Case

When someone sues for slander, libel, or defamation, they do so in a state court and claim that, according to the state’s slander or libel statutes, they suffered harm as a result of the defendant’s actions in making the false statement. A libel or slander lawsuit seeks monetary compensation for the damage that the statement caused, including physical discomfort, harm to the plaintiff’s reputation, lost wages or the inability to earn a living, and subjective emotional responses like embarrassment, humiliation, and fear.

Defamation claimants need to prove 

If you’re a private person, you must first establish that the statement was false to win your defamation case. Truth is an absolute defence to a defamation lawsuit, therefore if the statement is accurate, regardless of how unflattering it may be, your claim will be dismissed.

In the majority of circumstances, you will also need to show that the statement was made by someone who, either knew it was false at the time it was spoken or acted with “reckless disregard” for whether it was true or not.

The statement must also be published, as a final step. The most typical forms of publication include online posting, inclusion in a newspaper or magazine, and recurrence on a news programme. However, if the speaker repeats the statement to any third party, it may still be considered defamation.

A court will typically assume that you have incurred damages without any evidence of suffering if you can demonstrate these three elements (false statement, made intentionally or carelessly, and published to others). If so, you may be entitled to compensation for demonstrable losses. However, you would need to demonstrate that the comment was made intentionally which is a more difficult finding to establish, in order to obtain so-called “punitive damages,” damages meant to make an example of the person or entity that made the statement.

Similarly, if you are a public figure or official such as a politician, celebrity, or member of local government, you must also show that actual malice was present when the statement was made. Because you are in the public eye, courts will assume that it is more possible that numerous remarks will be made about you, many of which will be opinions. People who put themselves in the public eye are more likely to be exposed to false remarks, making it more difficult for them to prevail in a defamation case.

What is Defamation in the Real World?

A defamatory statement might be an accusation against a public official, like that he or she took a bribe or did something wrong if the charge is made as if it is true. Accusations of “police brutality” or immorality can also be harmful. If the claims of adultery or other sexual misbehaviour are false, they could be considered defamatory.

Today, it’s hard to tell the difference between an opinion and speech that hurts someone’s reputation because social media posts and other online content are everywhere. But not everything that’s posted online is always a point of view. This area of law changes all the time.

The Right to Say Something Damaging

Defamation claims can be countered with more than just the truth. Even if an allegation is offensive, it may be protected and therefore can’t be used against the person who made the statement. The rules of privilege are complicated, but one example is a statement made by an official during an investigation or other official job. Even if they are defamatory, these may not be actionable because the law supports thorough investigations, especially of crimes, and it is in the public’s best interest for officials to be able to do their jobs. The same could be said about what people say in court. Depending on where you live, protected speech can be “absolutely protected” or “qualified” (protected under certain conditions). Find out more about the “privilege” defence to a defamation claim.

Defamation cases are always complicated, and they often depend on how the law and the facts are viewed in very subtle ways. If you want to take this kind of case to court, you should find out what a Solicitor does in a Defamation claim.

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