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Understanding defamation law

On Behalf of | May 26, 2022 | Personal Injury

Defamation occurs when someone states something about another person that is not true and results in damages of some kind. Although people may have heard of the term before, they may not completely understand what it means.

Defamation law varies based on who the plaintiff is, but there are certain things every plaintiff must be able to prove in order to recover damages.

What is defamation?

Defamation refers to false statements that cause damage to an individual’s reputation, integrity or honor. The false statements must be facts – not just judgments or opinions – although the statement itself does not need to be factual. A written false statement is called “libel,” and spoken defamation is called “slander.” The key to defamation law is to balance a person’s right to free speech while also protecting another’s reputation.

Defamation and public vs. private figures

Over the years, the courts have set standards regarding defamation law and how it applies to public and private figures. Because public officials and figures, such as celebrities, seek out public attention, they need to be able to put up with a higher level of public scrutiny. As a result, to prove defamation, a public figure must be able to prove with hard evidence that the defendant behaved with actual malice. A private figure, however, only needs to show that the defendant was at fault or negligent.

Requirements of a defamation case

There are two types of damages that a plaintiff may seek in a defamation case: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory refers to actual losses, while punitive damages refer to a dollar amount meant to punish the defendant.

To recover damages, a plaintiff must be able to show that:

  • A third party heard the damaging statements
  • The statements fall under the definition of defamation
  • The statements were false and are provable as false
  • The statements caused actual damages or injury

Defamation law varies from one state to another with regards to standards for public and private plaintiffs. If you believe you’re the victim of defamation, it’s worth reaching out to a personal injury attorney in your state with experience in handling defamation cases.