Slander and defamation of character are two points of law that are often misunderstood. People who have only a limited understanding of the legal meaning of either term are often quick to say that they are going to sue somebody for saying something inappropriate or mean about them, only to find that the statement that was made does not rise to the level of being actionable. Determining whether a statement that has been made is defamatory or slander often presents a dilemma for the courts, who have to walk a fine line between protecting people’s right not to have harmful statements made about them and protecting the speaker’s right to freedom of speech.
Defamation of character is defined as language that injures someone’s good name or reputation. If what has been said was spoken orally, the defamation is considered slander. If it is written down or broadcast via television, radio or the internet, it is considered libel. In order to be considered defamation, what has been said has to have a negative impact on the way that the object of the statement is viewed by the public, even if only by a few people. That being said, the interpretation of a negative impact has to be reasonable — you are not likely to be successful in a slander or libel case if your interpretation of what has been said about you is overly sensitive.
Additionally, before filing a slander or libel lawsuit, it is important to give consideration to the question of whether or not what has been said about you is true or not. Though it may be difficult to face this question, it is important. If somebody calls you a thief and you have been convicted of stealing, then you cannot accuse them of defamation. People are also protected from being accused of slander or libel when they make statements about you during the course of a legal proceeding.
When filing a slander lawsuit, there are two different types of cases. One is slander per se, in which it is not necessary for you to prove that you have suffered any damages. This is the case when you have been accused of doing something that is criminal or that has an obvious impact on your professional or business standing. Cases where damages are not as clearly obvious are called slander per quod, and require you to provide proof that the statements made about you have had a monetary impact.
There are many complex aspects to the laws surrounding defamation. The rules differ for those who are famous or in the public eye than from the everyday man in the street. The punishment for defamation is always monetary, as defamation is not considered a crime but a civil wrong. If you believe that you have been the victim of defamation, you have a right to protect your reputation and good name. A defamation attorney will be able to advise you of whether statements made about you are actionable and what your next steps should be.
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