Slander and Defamation of Character: A 101
We’ve all heard of defamation of character, but few people actually understand what it is, and more importantly, what it is not. Defamation of character is a legal term that describes when somebody either writes or states something false about another person with the specific intent of having a negative impact on their reputation or standing within a community. Statements of opinion do not rise to the level of defamation, no matter how uncomfortable they may make their subject: statements of fact are also not defamatory. Though defamation is a legal issue, it can be extremely difficult to prove in a court of law.
One of the reasons that defamation of character is such a difficult claim to make is that there are a number of things that need to be proven. First, the person or entity that was the subject of the statement needs to be able to prove that the thing that was said is absolutely untrue, and was said with the intent of causing harm. No matter how hurtful a comment or written statement may be, if it was stated as a matter of opinion rather than as a fact, or if it is indeed true, then it is not defamatory, even if it has a negative impact.
Defamation has to be “published,” but this does not mean that it had to appear in writing — it simply means that it needs to have been heard or read by a third party. Defamation that takes place in writing is known as libel, and defamation that is broadcast orally is known as slander. The courts generally treat libel as a more serious issue than slander because the written word tends to last longer than a fleeting comment, although in today’s social media-driven world, video can make a spoken word last a very long time.
It is important to remember that a statement that is made under “privileged” circumstances cannot be considered defamation. Privileged circumstances include testimony given in court or statements made by legislators in an official capacity, even if the statements that they make are untrue.
Finally, in order for defamation to have taken place, it must be able to be proven that an injury took place. This is often the most difficult aspect of a defamation case, and that is true for a number of reasons. First, the person who has been harmed has to be able to prove harm that has actually happened. In the case of a business claiming that defamatory comments made about them will impact their business, they are not able to claim damages that have potential for occurring: they need to be able to show actual losses, and that is what will be reimbursed. This means that before you can seek retribution, you have to allow damage to actually occur in order to make the claim. Because of this, many victims of defamatory statements choose to file a cease and desist letter rather than actually filing a lawsuit.
A cease and desist letter is a legal means of putting slander and libel on record and making it clear that you intend to sue if the problem is not addressed. In some cases a cease and desist letter may simply ask for the problem to be corrected. In other cases, a retraction of harmful statements may be requested. An experienced defamation of character attorney can advise you as to the most effective way to approach issues of libel or slander. Contact Bochetto & Lentz today for more information on how we can assist you.
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