A lawsuit filed against Fox News called significant attention to the subject of defamation, but the subsequent headline-grabbing settlement resolved the issue before the trial began. If the attention and pundit pontification have you wondering what it would actually take to win a defamation lawsuit, here are the key elements:
- A False Statement – The most basic element and catalyst of a viable defamation lawsuit is an untrue statement. When a plaintiff wants to sue for defamation, they must be able to prove that the statement that caused them to take legal action is untrue, as well as that it was made as a statement of fact rather than of opinion.
- Knowledge of the Untruth – The next thing that a public figure plaintiff needs to prove in a defamation lawsuit is that the untrue statement made by the defendant was either made with the knowledge that what they were saying was false, or in reckless disregard that what they were saying was false.
- Communication of the False Statement to a Third Party – This requirement is essential to the success of a defamation lawsuit. A false statement made by a defendant directly to the plaintiff does not constitute defamation. A defamation verdict requires that the statement is made to a third party, whether orally or in writing, thus impacting the plaintiff’s reputation or standing.
- The Defendant’s False Statement Caused Harm – In order to win a defamation lawsuit, a plaintiff needs to prove more than that the defendant lied about them, even if the lies were widespread. It is essential to demonstrate that the lies that were knowingly or recklessly told and broadcast to a third party caused actual harm. Depending on the type of defamation, sometimes proof of economic harm is required, but you will at least have to prove harm to your reputation, i.e., people no longer want to be associated with you.
It’s important to note that you cannot use comments or communications made within a privileged setting, such as a statement in court, as a basis for filing a defamation lawsuit.
Defamation cases are notoriously difficult to prove because of the rigid requirements that the law imposes. If you believe that you have been a victim of defamation, your best first step is to seek guidance from an experienced defamation attorney to assess the strength of your case.