Defamation refers to statements that damage a person’s reputation. People who have suffered defamation may find that the damage to their reputation has a lasting negative impact on their career and personal life. The right to freedom of speech has some exceptions, but those exceptions are very narrow. Not just any statement you disagree with or find offensive can be considered defamatory. If you think you may have a valid defamation case, here are a few things you need to know:
What Options Do You Have?
Defamation falls under civil law, which means that you can pursue monetary damages against the person responsible for the defamatory statement. You will need a lawyer with experience dealing with these types of cases. Many lawyers, such as John Branca, are known for representing high-profile clients in cases of defamation.
Civil lawsuits can be expensive to pursue, so you should carefully consider whether legal action is the right course for you.
What Constitutes Defamation?
Under the law, defamation has a very specific definition. For you to successfully bring this type of case, you must show that a person made a statement, either written or spoken, to a third party and that the statement was false, unprivileged, and caused you actual damage. Privileged statements, such as ones made by witnesses under oath, are not considered defamatory even when untrue. Additionally, if you can not show that the statement did real damage to your reputation, you do not have a case. Real damage could include:
- Loss of a job
- Inability to find employment
- Diminished revenue
- Damage to personal relationships
What Isn’t Defamation?
Not all statements that cause damage to your reputation can be considered defamation. If a statement is true, it is protected from charges of defamation. Additionally, opinions are not defamatory, no matter how hurtful or controversial they may be, because opinions can not be proven either true or false.
Do Different Rules Apply to Public Figures?
Public figures, such as elected officials and celebrities, have a higher burden for proving defamation. In addition to demonstrating that a statement was false and damaging, a public figure must also show that the person who made the statement with actual malice. The term actual malice means that the person making the statement either knew or did not care that the statement was untrue and published it anyway.
If you believe you’ve been defamed, carefully consider whether your case meets the strict definition of defamation. When in doubt, you should consult a lawyer to help you understand this often-complex area of the law.