How can I sue for defamation?

Thu, Aug 28, 2014

General Legal Issues


How can i sue for defamation of character and do i have a case?  If someone hurt your reputation by way of slander or libel, you may have grounds to sue for defamation. In order to sue for defamation, you’ll need to prove that the statement made against you was public, false, injurious and unprivileged. If you determine this to be true, the next step is to write a complaint, and seek the help of an attorney to either settle with the defendant or take it to court. What are some things to consider before you sue and if you can sue for defamation.

First analyze the statement that was made. The defaming statement made against you can fall into one of two categories: slander or libel. Slander refers to statements that are spoken, while libel refers to written defamation. Written statements tend to cause more immediate damage and injury for a longer period of time than spoken statements, but libel is considered to be more harmful and better grounds for a suit than slander. Any defaming statement made orally for example: in a speech, over the radio, and etc. is considered slander. A statement that is printed in a book or newspaper, or made in some other written form, would be considered libel.

Can you prove that the statement was published? In legal terminology, “published” refers to information that was heard by a third party outside yourself and the person who made the statement. Being published doesn’t necessarily mean that the statement was printed in a book or newspaper, although that also counts. A published statement could also have been made public in the following ways: on television or radio, in a speech, on a leaflet or picket sign, in loud conversation, in which you could prove with the help of witnesses; via gossip, which you could prove if you have an email chain or other witnesses, and via social media sites including Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and others.

Make sure you can prove the statement was false. A defamatory statement must actually be a false one. If the statement is true, you don’t have grounds to sue, even if it damaged your reputation. In most cases, statements that can be construed as opinions aren’t considered defamatory, because an opinion is subjective and can’t be proved as objectively false.

Determine if you can prove that the statement was injurious. You must be able to show that the statement harmed you in a concrete way. Assess how the statement affected you and determine whether you can prove that your life has changed for the worse because people now view you differently. For example if you’ve lost work, been shunned by friends and family, or been harassed as a direct result of the statement, you can consider it to be injurious. If you already had a bad reputation, it will be hard to prove that you were defamed by this particular statement. If most people didn’t seem to believe the statement, and no real harm came to you as a result of it being made public, you might not be able to sue for defamation.

Determine if the statement was unprivileged. In some legal situations, people are asked to make statements without having to worry that they will get sued for defamation. Such statements are called “privileged.” For example, a witness could testify falsely in court, and the statement may have the same consequences as any other defamatory statement, but that witness is protected by special privilege.

What do you have to prepare before you meet with an attorney to discuss your case? You’ve already conducted your own research and determined that you have a case, you’ve put together all of your evidence and witnesses if necessary. This is when it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney who is experienced with this type of lawsuit, it’s not mandatory to have an attorney, but suing for defamation can be tricky and defamation laws contain gray areas which vary from state to state. Your best chance at being successful will be to hire a whip-smart attorney and bring the following information to your meeting:

  • An account of exactly what happened with regard to the defamatory statement and the circumstances surrounding it.
  • Documents, printed publications, email printouts, recordings, and other records of the defamatory statement.
  • Written statements of witnesses (third parties) who either heard or read the defamatory statements made by the defendant.
  • Proof that the statement is not true.
  • Any proof you have that the defamatory statement fulfills the requirements for suing for defamation such as proof that you were fired or have lost work, proof that your family no longer talks to you, etc.

After that then fill out a defamation complaint and file your lawsuit. Obtain a civil complaint form from your county civil court. Forms can often be found on court websites. You will need to provide the slanderer’s name, address, and a summary of your case. You also need to provide information as to what damages you seek. It’s a good idea to have your attorney review the complaint before you file it. That way you can be sure it’s filled out properly and that you include information that will help your case. File the complaint with the county civil court, along with the required court fees. Get two copies of the complaint: one to keep, and one to serve the defendant.

Next have the defendant served with a copy of the complaint. The process for doing this various according to the jurisdiction. In most cases you may either hire a process server to physically serve the defendant with a copy of the complaint, or have someone else who meets the legal requirements serve the defendant. Once the defendant has the complaint, he or she will have the opportunity to respond.

Now you can decide whether or not to go to court. Negotiate a settlement if possible. Once the defendant and his or her attorney see the proof of defamation, they may be willing to discuss a settlement and avoid going to court. If your aim is to receive damages, then negotiating may be the best option for you. If you want to restore your good name, you might decide to go to court instead, so you have the chance to bring the truth to light.

Go to court if necessary but be prepared to present evidence proving that the statement made against you is untrue and injurious. Remember that if the defendant can prove that the statement is actually true, the case will be dismissed. Discuss your options regarding trial by jury or a bench trial. A bench trial is a trial where only the judge hears the evidence and rules on whether you have suffered harm to reputation.

There are an abundance of social media sites and outlets for people to feel like they have the freedom of speech without any repercussions. If you can prove that you have a valid suit and have the evidence to back it up, then you should be successful in your pursuit in re-confirming the truth and reinstating your good name.

Attorney Christopher D. Smith is a Lakewood Ranch, Florida attorney with SmithLaw Attorneys. He concentrates in bankruptcy, civil litigation, probate, estate planning, and elder exploitation cases in the Sarasota and Bradenton area. Call 941-202-2222 to learn more and to ask about our free consultations that are available for certain types of cases.

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