Discussions on freedom of speech can be quite complicated, regardless if you are the complainant or defendant. A person may sue or be sued if there was a violation of slander or libel law. Before proceeding with filing a lawsuit against someone, however, you should first be familiar with what defamation, slander, or libel means. 

Defamation, slander, or libel are often confused with one another. When something communicated is untrue and falsely debases the character of someone, he or she will likely look into these to file a lawsuit.

Defamation refers to false statements that are presented as a statement of fact and may injure or damage a person’s character. These constitute defamation cases. An untrue statement that damages another’s reputation can be brought to court through a defamation suit.

There is defamation of character when injurious falsehood is presented as the truth to someone else. Making a statement only to the subject of the statement cannot be grounds for a claim of defamation since his or her character is not damaged in the eyes of someone else.

There is a legal difference in defamation law between defaming someone and simply stating an opinion. Saying “That person is annoying” is an opinion that cannot be proven empirically as true or false. In contrast, while saying “I think that person stole a phone” is also an opinion, there is a damaging implication that such a person committed a crime. If there is falsity in the accusation, then the statement will defame that person. This is the reason why newspapers and broadcast media always use the term ‘allegedly’ when referring to people who have been accused. As part of responsible journalism, this is the case whether it is a private person or a public personality. The term ‘allegedly’ makes it clear that they are only reporting instances when people accuse another of a crime. Such do not include their opinion.

DefamationThe intention is crucial in a defamation case. There must be the knowledge that the statement was untrue or there was a reckless disregard for the truth. The latter means that the individual who made the statement questioned its truthfulness but still said it anyway. If the defamed person is not a public figure, he or she can also take legal action when there was negligence in determining the truth of the statement.

Specifics of what can make one liable under defamation law vary from state-to-state. Some state laws automatically make certain statements defamatory. A false statement accusing a person to have committed serious crimes, or has serious infectious diseases, or is professionally-incompetent can automatically merit action for defamation against that person. Such a person can protect his or her good name by suing for damages. 

  • Difference between libel and slander

When one commits libel or slander against another individual, he or she may be punished under defamation law. Libels and slanders are essentially two types of defamatory statements.

Libel is a written untrue defamatory statement. Slander, on the other hand, is an orally spoken untrue defamatory statement. As legal terms, the distinction between defamation and libel or slander is the broadness of the first. Defamatory statements could be in any medium: a social media comment, mention in a vlog, or inclusion in a televised speech. Libelous acts are limited to statements made in writing while slanderous acts are limited to those made orally.

Seditious libel refers to printing statements about the government or public officials that are known to be false (or there was a reckless disregard for the truth) and, in this regard, are ‘seditious’ in nature.

  • Damages for defamation, slander, and libel

Individuals filing a slander or libel suit (or defamation lawsuits in general) are essentially alleging that they were damaged by the actions of another individual who made false statements. Under slander or libel laws, general damages are often sought for harm brought about by the statements that defame the plaintiff, which may include pain and suffering, lost wages, or even emotional reactions (shame, anxiety, etc).

  • Defenses against defamation or a slander or libel lawsuit

Suing or being sued for libel or slander is not something that should be taken lightly. Slander and libel cases are essentially allegations where truth is an absolute defense. If the statement is true, you would not have to worry. If the slander or libel case involves public figures, proving that you have been simply negligent in weighing the falsity of the statement could also be used as a defense.

When facing any of the above, get an experienced law firm to help you. Call us at Dodds Law Firm for assistance.