By Elspeth Crawford
No one likes it when people spread lies behind their back. If someone has done this to you, you may be entitled to sue that person under the law of defamation. Defamation occurs when someone else says or tells another person a false statement about you that damages your reputation or good name. Defamation comes in a couple of different varieties. Defamation through writing is called “libel.” Spoken defamation is called "slander."
Libel is written defamation. It can come in many forms: through a blurb in a newspaper article, a memo circulated around an office, an e-mail, and more. In order to recover against someone who has committed a libel against you, you must show that the written statement was:
Also know that libel is not limited to written statements. Libel also encompasses offensive pictures, caricatures, statutes, and effigies that meet the above requirements. Keep that in mind the next time you make an offensive wood carving.
Unlike libel, slander is spoken rather than written. If someone says something offensive and untrue about you to another person and it damages your reputation, you may be able to sue for slander. Slander has the same basic requirements as libel, that is the statement must be defamatory, must be published to at least one other person, and must be said with some degree of fault. In fact, some states don’t have separate laws for libel and slander but treat both the same. Still, there are a few wrinkles that make slander unique.
If you’re sued for defamation, know that there are some situations in which you are not liable. These situations include:
If you are ever sued for defamation, the best course of action is to consult an attorney, as there are subtleties to using any of these defenses which a lawyer will more readily understand.
If you've been defamed, you may be entitled to receive a monetary award to compensate for your damaged reputation or lost business. The process of proving the amount of the award can be difficult and could require extensive negotiations or a trial. If the defamation was particularly reprehensible, you might also collect "punitive damages," which exist to punish people beyond the amount it would take to merely compensate a defamed person for their losses.