All About Defamation
All About Defamation
Michael Ehline (Attorney at Law) gives expert video advice on: What is a tort of defamation?; What is 'libel'?; What is 'slander'? and more...
What is a tort of defamation?
In a nutshell, defamation is simply a statement made in public about somebody that usually is false, or simply so horrible that it would subject someone to ridicule in the public, which would damage their reputation, usually so much so that other people wouldn't want to do business with that person and cause that person actual economic harm.
What is 'libel'?
A libel is simply a written form of defamation, where someone makes an untrue statement about another person which subjects them to ridicule or harm. But rather than simply saying it, it's actually published, for example in a newspaper.
What is 'slander'?
Slander is spoken defamation. Slander is when someone goes in public, and makes a transmission of a statement, which is untrue about another, which subjects that person to public harm, shame or ridicule.
What are the basic laws of defamation?
The basic laws of defamation are a false or defamatory statement about a plaintiff that is going to cause harm or ridicule to that plaintiff's reputation, and it has to be published to a third party, not just the plaintiff. Telling someone to their face, "You're a jerk" if you're not, it might just be deemed an insult. Or even telling the public that you're a jerk might be deemed an insult. But telling the public that you had sex with your mother is an example when it's not true would definitely hold you out to ridicule in modern society and the law would imply a remedy.
What are the basic issues in right to privacy?
The basic issues in right to privacy cases are that if somebody has painted you in a false light may not necessarily be an untrue statement but that's something that makes you look bad or they intrude into your privacy or seclusion of your home, take pictures of you while you're, you know, with your family in a compromising situation for example, that you would have a remedy under the invasion of privacy laws to sue those people that do those things. Paparazzi are prime example of invasion of right to privacy lawsuits. They are often sued for invading the rights of seclusion of a celebrity because although that celebrity while they are in public may not have much of a right to privacy. Once they are in their home and then people start putting bugs in their apartment or their home in order to listen to what they are saying or even cameras to put them on film. Once it's in their own privacy, they have that right to that privacy and they can sue you for it because it is a valuable property right.
What is the 'requirement of fault' in defamation cases?
The requirement of fault in defamation cases is simply the standard of which the person who made the defamatory statement used. Was it a mistake, was it done intentionally, was it done maliciously? Public figures are entitled to a higher standard of fault. In other words, if I make a statement about a public figure and it's not true, since the public figure has voluntarily thrust himself into the public light, that public figure will have to prove that I made the statement maliciously with intent to harm him. But if I simply made the statement negligently, that public figure won't have a case against me. Whereas if it's a private person and I make a statement about that private person who has not put himself in the public light, then the degree of fault would be mere negligence. The degree of fault against that public figure would be malice. So that's basically what fault is. It's the standard of care used in making the statement but is directly related to the type of plaintiff. Public figures require malicious statement, private figures require a mere negligence statement that is false.
What must I prove if I am the plaintiff in a defamation case?
If you are a plaintiff in a defamation case it first depends upon whether or not you are a public figure or a private figure. If you're a public figure in a defamation case, in addition to a false statement made about you that was published to a third party you also need to prove that that statement that was made was false, and was made maliciously or recklessly. If you are a private figure in a defamation case, all you need to prove is that false statement was made about you negligently, but additionally you still have to prove that you were damaged. Sometimes this is a very difficult burden to prove.
What is the procedure for suing for libel?
So the first step is to try and mitigate your damages by respectfully requesting a retraction. If that has not happened, then you may go to court, you may file a court complaint, you will get the court to issue a summons, and then you will have, normally, a process-server or disinterested party serve that lawsuit upon the wrongdoer, at which point the case will normally go into a process where you either settle it or you go to trial and let the jury decide.
What are matters of public interest in defamation cases?
Matters of public interest in defamation cases are cases wherein you make a statement, for example, about a congressman. Or in more recent times a statement about Bill Clinton, maybe that he's a sexaholic or something of that nature. That might be deemed in the public interest and may be a bar to a lawsuit for defamation, in addition to the fact that it is almost impossible for a public figure or politician to sue someone for defamation because of the high standards of malice that need to be proved.
What is the legal definition of 'absolute privilege' in defamation cases?
Absolute privilege is a situation, usually political, where in a statement is made in the course of a legislated proceeding. Where one congressman could say the most horrible things about another congressman and those statements will be deemed absolutely privileged, even though they're horrible and horrendous statements; that wouldn't be acceptable under any situation. Another example of an absolutely privileged statement could be a statement made in court, also known as litigation privilege. Those types of statements are never going to be subject to a defamation lawsuit.
What is the legal definition of 'qualified privilege' in defamation cases?
The qualified privilege is the privilege of the publisher to publish the matter which is in the interest of public. If someone moves to the court for the loss occurred to him due to some matter published in a newspaper or in other publication, the court will see if the matter published is in the interest of public or not . If the court finds that the matter is in the interest of the public, then the court will dismiss the case. Otherwise the loss of the person who filed the case is to be made good by the publisher.