FAQ on Defamation

What is Defamation?

Defamation, sometimes called "defamation of character", is spoken or written words that falsely and negatively reflect on a living person's reputation.

If a person or the news media says or writes something about you that is understood to lower your reputation, or that keeps people from associating with you, defamation has occurred. Slander and libel are two forms of defamation.

Can you sue?

In order to prove defamation, you have to be able to prove that what was said or written about you was false. If the information is true, or if you consented to publication of the material, you will not have a case. However, you may bring an defamatory action if the comments are so reprehensible and false that they effect your reputation in the community or cast aspersions on you

Are movie, theatre and restaurant reviews protected from defamation suits?

A fair critique of a restaurant, movie, TV show, or theater play is not libelous, even though the comments or criticism are disparaging and may result in a loss of business or reputation.

Can libel suits be brought by a public figure?

These suits are a bit dicer for the public figure.

A public figure may be an elected or appointed (a politician) or someone who has stepped into a public controversy (e.g., movie stars and TV stars, star athletes). Public figures have a "harder road to toll" than the average person since they must prove that the party defaming them knew the statements were false, made them with actual malice, or was negligent in saying or writing them. Proving these elements makes the chance of a successful lawsuit slim.

Can you sue for defamatory statements made by a witness under oath?

Statements in a judicial proceeding are privileged. A judge, juror, lawyers, witnesses, or other parties are absolutely protected. For example, you are involved in an employment dispute with your former employer who lets it be known to everyone that you are a drunk and a thief, knowing that it is untrue. Your former employer can make this defamatory statement without being sued by you afterwards.

Also protected are the remarks made by federal or state legislators in committee hearings or floor debates.

Are there defenses to defamation?

Establishing the truth is the single most effective defense that can be offered. If the remark is truthful and it "hurts", is embarrassing, or subjects you to ridicule, there is little you can do. Unfortunately, unless the remark is false, you have no recourse.

My former employer is sabotaging my job efforts by giving negative job references to prospective employers.  Can I sue for libel?

Generally, statements made by a former employer to inquiries from a prospective employer can be made without fear of being sued later. However, protection will be lost if there are any ancillary suggestions, inferences, innuendoes, etc. that lead a prospective employer to attach a different meaning to what is said or to believe something misleading or untruthful about the employee. The difficulty is proving that the statements were inaccurate and wrong.

(Copyright 2001 FreeAdvice.com. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed.)