Not many people realize how complex defamation can be. It is an often misunderstood area of the law with more nuances than most people ever think to consider. It occurs when a statement is made about a person that is untrue and damaging to their reputation. This is the essential truth of the matter, but there is much more to it than that. If you need to defend yourself against a defamation claim, the first thing is to determine whether the matter actually does constitute defamation at all. Ask these five questions to find out.

Is it a Libel or Slander Claim?

Defamation is a category that includes two forms of reputational harm – slander and libel. Slander is defined as spoken defamation, while libel is defamation in written form. If you are dealing with a statement made on television, radio, or digital media, the line between slander and libel blurs. Libel is usually easier to prove, because there is an actual written record of the offending comments. It also has the potential to reach larger audiences, meaning more substantial, provable damage. 

Who Was The Audience?

To be defamatory, a statement must have a tendency to harm one’s reputation in the eyes of a particular audience or community. The resulting harm must result in clear, provable damages. If the members of a small community gossip about a particular individual, but the stories being spread have no effect on the individual’s personal or professional life, there has not been any defamation. On the other hand, if the same individual is the subject of office talk that results in him or her being fired, there is a definite case for defamation. For this reason, it is always important to consider the audience and how it can affect the subject’s life. 

Can You Prove the Statement is False?

If a damaging statement is actually true, then there has been no defamation. In order to be claimed as defamatory, a statement must be demonstrably false. If someone accuses another person of theft, and the accusation proves to be correct, the other person cannot sue for defamation. On the other hand, if an innocent person is accused of theft, leading to reputational loss, they have every right to make a claim.

Were Damages Incurred?

The defamed person usually needs to prove that the defamation has led to damages of some kind. Damages could include lost income, or any physical, mental or economic harm that the person has suffered because of the statements made against them. There are exceptions to this rule. Certain types of statements, like accusations of criminal behavior or sexual misconduct, are often regarded as defamation per se, meaning the individual can bring an action for libel or slander without having to prove any damages.

Who is The Speaker?

Sometimes, a person can make statements that harm the reputation of others, but these statements fall under legal privileges, so the speaker is not liable for defamation. An example might be claims made in court, which harm an individual’s reputation, but had a bearing on the case, and thus needed to be said in the courtroom setting. 

How to Defend Yourself with a Lawyer

If you are facing a defamation claim, it is best to speak to a defamation attorney to help you defend yourself. Contact Westover Law, and book a consultation with one of our attorneys. We will examine the circumstances of your particular case and create a defense crafted around those details. Contact us for more information.