Defamation is constituted by spoken words or false and non-confidential written publications, which expose any living person to hatred, contempt, ridicule or damage it in their trade or occupation.
For example, if a person or news media says or writes something about you that tends to diminish your reputation, or that prevents people from associating with you, then defamation has occurred. However, if someone says something false about someone who has died, it is not considered defamatory. No legal action can be taken on behalf of a dead person. Only a living person can be defamed.
What Damages can I Recover In A Defamation Lawsuit?
If you have been defamed, you can file a lawsuit because of such defamation. The lawsuit can help you recover for the damages you have suffered due to the defamatory statement or comment.
There are both actual damages, to recover the damage suffered and punitive damages to punish the person who made the comment (and to serve as an example to prevent others from doing the same).
Actual damages in a character defamation case include, but are not limited to:
- Economic damages
- Damage to your reputation
- Mental anguish
Punitive damages are established to serve as an economic punishment. The purpose of such punishment is to incite the person not to do the harmful act again.
If the person made a statement that wrongly accused him or her of a crime or was negatively reflected in his or her profession, the court or jury may assess the damages. For other types of defamation you must prove some damage in fact to be able to recover it.
I think I’ve been defamed, how can I prove it?
In order to prove the defamation, you must be able to prove that what was said or written about you was a false. If the information is true, or if you consent to the publication of the material, you will not have a case. However, you can initiate a defamation action if the comments are so false that they affect your reputation in the community.
What defenses are available for someone who has been sued for defamation?
Ordinarily there are 6 possible defenses for a defendant who has been sued for libel (defamation published in a communication.)
- The truth. This is a complete defense, but it can be difficult to prove.
- A fair comment on a matter of public interest. This defense applies only to “opinion”, as compared to a statement of fact. Usually the defendant needs to prove that the opinion was made honestly and the comments were not motivated by “malice” in fact (Malice means knowledge of the falsehood or negligence to discover the truth or falsity of the defamatory statement.)
- Privilege. The privilege can be absolute or qualified. Privilege usually exists when the speaker or writer has the duty to communicate to a specific person or persons on a given occasion. In some cases the privilege is qualified and may be lost if the publication is unnecessarily broad or is made with malice.
- Consent. This is rarely available, since plaintiffs ordinarily do not agree with the publication of statements they find offensive.
- Innocent dissemination. In some cases a party that has no knowledge of the content of a defamatory statement may use this defense. For example, a mailman who delivers a sealed envelope containing a defamatory statement is not legally responsible for any damage that might result from the declaration.
- The plaintiff’s poor reputation. The defendant can mitigate (diminish) the damages of a defamatory statement by proving that, to begin with, the plaintiff does not have a good reputation. The defendant can ordinarily prove the plaintiff’s poor reputation by calling witnesses who know the plaintiff’s prior reputation regarding defamatory content.