Defamation, Libel, Slander

Defamation is a false, unprivileged statement made about someone to a third party that damages the character of the plaintiff’s character resulting in personal and/or professional harm. The untruth can be written, pictured, spoken, or even through body language. Defamation is the inclusive term that includes both slander and libel. Slander is an oratory untruth, while libel refers to statements that can be seen, typically written or published. “Defamation is an invasion of the interest in reputation. The tort involves the intentional publication of a statement of fact that is false, unprivileged, and has a natural tendency to injure or which causes special damage.” (Smith v. Maldonado (1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 637, 645 85 (Cal.Rptr.2d 397)

Context is everything in determining whether the speaker was offering the statement as a verifiable fact. In determining whether a statement is true or false, you must also examine how the statement is made. It is harder to prove slander occurred than libel, since slander can be more of a “he said, she said” than libel, where evidence is more tangible. “In cases involving matters of purely private concern, the burden of proving truth is on the defendant.” (Smith v. Maldonado, 72 Cal.App.4th 637, 646 & n.5 (Cal. Ct. App. 1999) You must be able to prove that you suffered harm to your “property, business, profession or occupation” as a result of the statement. Economic damages arising from libel and slander generally include the loss of income, inheritance, or loan.

Slander is an oral defamation and considered a civil wrong (tort) which can be used as the basis of a lawsuit. Libel can be made through numerous different mediums such as a publication on radio, audio or video. . “As a matter of law, in cases involving public figures or matters of public concern, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove falsity in a defamation action.” (Nizam-Aldine v. City of Oakland, 47 Cal. App. 4th 364 (Cal. Ct. App. 1996)

In order to prove a libel or slander claim, the individual usually must prove five main points: False communication, unprivileged statement of fact that is not an opinion, that the statement was made about the plaintiff, published to a third party, and the damages caused. Non-pecuniary damages often involve injury to reputation or public humiliation.

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