Defamation - A false statement vs. an opinion

It can be difficult to determine if a negative statement about another person would be considered defamatory and subject to legal action. Generally, a defamatory statement is presented (in writing or speech to a third party) as a false statement of fact. It can be a negligent or intentional statement, and causes harm to the person mentioned in the communication.

There are several kinds of statements that could be defamatory simply based on their content. For example, making a statement of fact that another person has committed a crime would be defamatory if it was false. Also, stating that someone has a disease could be considered defamatory if untrue. Finally, making false statements about someone's professional competence may fall under the classification of defamation.

However, publically making a negative statement about someone might only be considered an opinion. For example, "Bob is a mean person" is not a false statement of fact; it is merely an opinion even if it harms his reputation. It might rise to the level of defamation if the following false statement was made about Bob: "He is a mean person who has stolen thousands of dollars from unsuspecting widows." This implies that he may have committed a crime, and the statement could be considered defamatory.

There are also different standards for private citizens and public figures. (Read more.)

The details of potentially defamatory statements require the knowledge and expertise of attorneys. Contact our office today with any concerns you may have about libel (a written defamatory statement) and/or slander (a spoken defamatory statement).

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