Defamation is the umbrella term for a statement that harms a person’s reputation, and includes both slander (spoken) and libel (written) statements. Under defamation law, a person whose reputation has been hurt by a defamatory statement can sue the person who made the statement in a civil court.
Since online reviews of products and services are so ubiquitous these days, a surge in defamation lawsuits has occurred where companies are suing individuals for negative reviews. There is a fine line between freedom of speech and defamation, which is why it is important to understand the elements that constitute defamation.
To prevail in a defamation lawsuit, it must be proven that:
Someone made a statement. The statement must be written, spoken, or otherwise expressed in some way.
The statement was published or overhead by others. Defamation law requires that the statement be seen or heard by a third party.
The statement caused injury. The statement must have caused injury to the subject of the statement.
The statement was untrue. Only false statements can be considered defamatory; truth is a pure defense. Statements of opinion are not considered defamatory since they are subjective, just as long as the opinion does not contain false statements. For example, an online review that says, “My food did not taste good” is opinion; a review that says, “This restaurant serves spoiled meat” can be defamatory if it is untrue.
The statement did not fall into a privileged category. Defamation does not apply when a statement is considered to be privileged. An example of this is false testimony in a trial, where the witness is not liable for slander because providing testimony at trial is privileged.
The prevalence of social media makes it easier than ever for people to make defamatory statements, and you can be sued for publishing a false statement online if it harms someone’s reputation and is viewed by others.
People in the public eye — public officials and celebrities — typically face a higher hurdle to prevail in a defamation lawsuit. Generally, the statement must not only meet all the factors above, it must also have been made with actual malice — i.e., an intent to inflict harm when the person making the statement knows it is false.
When business disputes arise, you need experienced legal representation and advice. Williams Commercial Law Group, L.L.P., is a law firm focusing on contract disputes, and business divorce. Contact us at (602) 256-9400 and schedule a time to meet with us today.