Your reputation is an invaluable asset. Unfortunately, damaging information can live forever on the Internet. If you have been defamed, you may consider filing a lawsuit to clear your name. Before you do, the following information can help you determine if you have a case.
Defamation, Slander and Libel: What’s the difference?
Defamation is the general term that encompasses both slander and libel. California law defines these terms in Civil Code Sections 44 through 48.
The only difference between slander and libel is that slander is a spoken defamatory statement, and libel is a written defamatory statement. The elements required to prove either form of defamation are:
- publication of a statement of fact (not opinion);
- which is false;
- which is not privileged;
- which causes actual damage; and
- which the speaker was at least negligent in failing to verify before publication.
What is a published statement?
A defamatory statement is published if it is made in a way that can be reviewed or seen by the public. The legal definition of “published” is broader than our general definition and can depend on the particular set of facts. For example, a statement is published if it is written in the newspaper, spoken over a news broadcast, written on the Internet in a blog or tweet, stated to a crowd of people, or fixed in some other manner for public viewing.
What kinds of statements are privileged?
If a statement is considered privileged, then it is not defamation. California protects, or privileges, several types of statements. Three main types of privileged statements are:
- Official reports — official statements from a government entity or representative, such as a police officer;
- Opinion — statements which are simply a speaker’s opinion and not facts are not defamation and are protected by the First Amendment; or
- Substantial truth — if a statement is true, then it is not defamation.
Public Figures, Limited Public Figures and Private Individuals
The rules regarding defamation are different, depending on your status in the community. Public figures, such as politicians or celebrities, have chosen to be in the public eye and have opened themselves up to public comment and speculation. People who are public figures have fewer protections against defamation than the average citizen. Average citizens, however, may become limited-purpose public figures if they inject themselves into a public controversy.
The distinction between public figures, limited public figures and private individuals is important because of what must be proved in order to win a defamation case. A private individual only needs to show that the person who made the defamatory statement failed to use reasonable care when ascertaining whether or not the statement was true. Public figures and limited public figures, however, must show that the person who made the statement did so intentionally, knowing the statement was false or showed a reckless disregard for the truth. This is a challenging standard, which means defamation cases are harder to win for people who are in the public eye.
How do I know if I have a case?
Defamation cases are difficult to win because of the complex variety of elements that plaintiffs must prove. In addition to showing the information listed above, you must bring the lawsuit only against the person who made the statement and not a person who simply repeated the information. Additionally, you must file a lawsuit within one year of the date the statement was made. Finally, you generally have to prove that you were actually damaged in some way. For example, you lost business or income as a result. Being offended or having your feelings hurt is usually not enough to sustain a defamation lawsuit.
Resolving a defamation lawsuit takes time. Most lawsuits settle before a trial, but it still may take years before any compensation is received. Before beginning the process of filing a defamation claim, take advantage of a free consultation with the lawyers at Hiden, Rott & Oertle, LLP. Our attorneys can review the evidence of your defamation and discuss if you have a case. Call 619-296-5884 to set up your free consultation in San Diego today.