What is Defamation?

Defamation is a general word that refers to the harm of a person's reputation caused by the spoken or written words of another. It is more commonly known as either libel (written) or slander (spoken). Defamation is a civil rather than a criminal act.

There are four commonly accepted guidelines for determining if one person has been "defamed" by the words of another:

1. Was the statement published? In this instance, the word "published" does not necessarily mean that it was printed - only that the statement was heard or seen by a third party. For example, a loud conversation or a speech in a public place could qualify as "published."

2. Was the statement false? To be considered defamatory, the statement must be untrue. There are circumstances, for example in the instance of an opinion, which may not be defamation even though the content is negative or disparaging.

3. Did the statement cause injury? In order to sue for defamation, there must be damage to one's reputation. The injured party who is seeking compensation must prove they were harmed. For example, did they lose their job due to the statement; were they socially ostracized because of another's words; and so forth?

4. Was the statement unprivileged? Certain instances of speech and writing are considered "privileged" free speech, such as testifying in court or giving a deposition. Lawmakers also enjoy this privilege for their official documents and verbal statements in the legislature. Words, in these situations, might not be considered defamatory in a court of law.

Our experienced attorneys are available to discuss any concerns you may have about the specifics of libel and slander.

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