It is always maddening to be the subject of lies, exaggerations, and outrageous statements, but when they are made online the impact is outsized. The viral and social nature of the Internet lends itself to misstatements traveling at far greater speed and with much greater reach. A false statement made online about you or your business may be enraging, but you should be aware of the challenges and requirements of pursuing an internet defamation case before moving forward with this difficult type of litigation.
Defamation describes a written false statement made as if it is a fact, but in order to meet the legal standard for defamation it must also have been made as a result of negligence or malice (in the case of a public figure,) and it must have caused harm, usually to reputation. If the statement that has been made causes harm to reputation but is proven to be true then it does not constitute defamation. Likewise, a statement clearly made and understood by a reasonable reader as opinion does not meet the definition of defamation.
To bring a defamation case there are several elements that must be present. These include:
- A false statement
- The above-referenced statement must have been communicated to a third party
- The person or entity that communicated the false statement must have acted negligently (or with malice if the subject of the statement is a public figure)
- The false statement and communication must have caused damage to the plaintiff
- The statement cannot have been made in situations that are considered privileged. These include executive actions, official proceedings, and judicial proceedings.
One of the biggest challenges of filing a defamation lawsuit involves proving the actual damages that the defamatory statement caused. These may include lost income, reputational harm, or emotional distress. Unfortunately, in many cases these damages can be difficult to prove, which leaves the plaintiff with a moral victory but inconsequential compensation. If the plaintiff can prove that the false statements were made maliciously then they may be able to win punitive damages meant to serve as punishment and deterrence against future similar statements. These damages can be more substantial.
Filing an internet defamation lawsuit begins with determining whether all of the elements needed for successful litigation are present. To discuss your specific situation, contact us today to set up a time to meet.