Fight to Repair Your Reputation: Defamation of Character Lawyers
The internet has made defamation of character or reputation easier than ever. Even an innocuous comment can destroy reputations and business relationships, seemingly overnight. That’s why it’s more important than ever to try and hold the negligent, malicious, and reckless accountable for their actions.
When defamation claims get complicated, and when the financial damages become substantial, our complex litigation team stands ready to stand up for you.
Defamation of Character: A Definition
Defamation is defined as a false written or spoken assertion of fact to a third party. Actionable defamation must damage the reputation and/or business interests of the person being defamed.
What Is the Difference Between Libel and Slander?
Defamation in the form of writing, videos, pictures, and other media is called libel. Defamation in speech form is called slander. While speech can be forgotten more easily, published falsities may be much harder to escape.
For your practical purposes, the three bolded terms are interchangeable. For example, an internet libel lawyer, an internet defamation lawyer, and a defamation and slander lawyer all work on the same types of cases. There is also no distinction between online defamation law and traditional defamation law.
What Are the Types of Defamation?
There are two kinds of defamation of character.
Defamation per se occurs when the nature of the defamation is so severe that there’s no reasonable question as to whether or not it damaged the plaintiff’s reputation. A wrongful allegation of pedophilia, for example, is so obviously damaging on the surface that the court doesn’t even need the plaintiff to prove it specifically. The damages are “presumed.”
False statements in the following four categories can give rise to a defamation per se claim:
- Accusing someone of an “infamous” crime
- Accusing someone of having an infectious disease
- Accusing someone of being dishonest in their business dealings
- Other statements that tend to subject the victim to ridicule and contempt
For other defamation cases, called defamation per quod, the plaintiff has to specifically demonstrate how their reputation was harmed and what losses they suffered. Proving something abstract like a damaged reputation can be challenging.
Can You Sue for Defamation of Character?
The defamation, slander, and libel lawsuit requirements are the same. To successfully sue, you must be able to demonstrate three things:
- Someone made a false assertion about you
- That assertion was shared with a third party
- The false statement harmed your reputation and/or business interests
If the statement is true, if people won’t understand it’s about you, or if the defamatory words were reasonably expected to remain private, your defamation claim likely does not meet the legal standard.
What’s the Difference Between Private and Public Plaintiffs?
Whether the plaintiff is considered a public figure or not has a huge impact on what you need to prove for your claim to succeed.
To successfully bring a claim, private plaintiffs must show only that the alleged defamer was negligent — in other words, they didn’t act as a reasonable person would in similar circumstances.
The standard of proof is higher if you’re a public figure or celebrity trying to prove defamation. Whether someone is considered a public or private figure depends to a large extent on how they conduct themselves. There is no specific action or level of news coverage that triggers an instant re-classification of an individual from private to public figure; it is a case-by-case analysis.
Someone running for President should expect to be talked about; on the other hand, a private person living in a remote cabin should be able to stay out of the public eye. The tricky cases can arise when a plaintiff falls somewhere in between politician and hermit. Is a wealthy real estate developer a public personality, or is it still reasonable for them to expect to lead their lives as a private figure?
If the court determines that a plaintiff is a public figure, their road becomes much harder. A public figure has to show that their defamer acted maliciously or with reckless disregard. That can be difficult to prove.
What Kind of Lawyer Handles Defamation Cases?
Whether you’re looking at hiring a lawyer for libel or slander or thinking of suing for defamation of character, you want a lawyer experienced in this area. If your reputation has been harmed, a lawyer can help you navigate the process of bringing a claim to try and clear your name and recover for your harms and losses. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.
What Is a Disparagement Lawsuit? Do I Want a Defamation or Disparagement Lawyer?
Disparagement is closely related to defamation and you want an experienced lawyer for either. Disparagement, also called business or commercial disparagement, is different from defamation because of who or what is being targeted. While defamation is concerned with people, disparagement is concerned with a product or service.
Just as with defamation, the plaintiff needs to first show that the claim or claims made about their business are untrue. In disparagement cases, the person or entity speaking the untruth must have known (or should have known) that their false statement could do harm. If the plaintiff can show that the defendant acted with malice and did in fact cause harm, they are entitled to recover compensation.
What Are Examples of Defamation and Disparagement Situations?
Defamation of character under the law requires that a false statement about you be shared with a third party, and the false statement must harm your reputation.
In one landmark defamation case that made it to the North Carolina Supreme Court, a forensics agent sued The News and Observer for a series of disparaging articles written about her. Despite the fact that the agent worked for the government and was thus a public figure for purposes of defamation claims, the jury found that the newspaper did act with actual malice in publishing their story.
For example, one expert “quoted” for the expose sent an email less than two weeks before the article was published saying they couldn’t offer an opinion on the plaintiff’s work. The newspaper published the story anyway, along with the quote. This behavior was so obviously aimed at sensationalism instead of good faith reporting that even the generous First Amendment right to free speech didn’t apply. As the Supreme Court wrote, while it is essential to protect a free press, “an individual still has the ‘right to the protection of his own good name.’”
In a case won at trial by one of our attorneys, Gary Jackson, a startup sued US Bank for publicly denying their business relationship. As a result of the denial, MyGallons’ promising business venture utterly failed, at which point they sued the bank for defamation. The jury found that US Bank did in fact defame MyGallons and severely damage their business prospects and awarded the company $4 million in damages.1,3
What Are Some Common Defenses to Defamation Claims?
While we want to punish people for their wrong behavior, we also want a society of free-flowing discussion. That’s why, even if a plaintiff can show that a defendant acted negligently, recklessly, or maliciously, the defendant still might have a defense under the law.
Here are some examples of possible defenses to a defamation claim:
Defense #1: “It’s just my personal opinion.”
While a fact is independently verifiable, an opinion is something reasonable people could disagree over. Saying someone was convicted of a crime is verifiable and is either true or untrue. Stating that someone acted “suspiciously,” on the other hand, likely falls under the category of opinion. Defamatory statements based on opinions are not actionable.
Defense #2: “I didn’t say anything that isn’t true.”
Truth is an absolute defense to defamation of character. Not only that, but substantial truth is usually enough. So long as the crux of the alleged defamation was true, the defamer may have a bulletproof defense.
Defense #3: “I’m a journalist.”
Under defamation law, journalists have privilege in particular situations to defame another. Reporting on someone’s criminal activity will certainly harm their reputation; however, as journalists have a social duty to report on matters of public concern, their reporting does not rise to the level of legal defamation — unless it was done with malice or reckless disregard. A journalist can’t publish unverified, defamatory information about someone just because they work for a newspaper, as seen in The News & Observer case.
Defense #4: “I got it from an official document.”
If a person relies in good faith on an official record, such as a government report or court document, and it turns out the information in the document is wrong, they’re unlikely to be held liable for any damages they triggered. Defamation is essentially intended to motivate people to check their sources before relying on them. If the defamer’s source should have been reliable, there is little to gain in holding them accountable.
What Kinds of Compensation Can I Receive if I’m a Victim of Defamation?
The intent of civil compensation is to make the victim whole — to make it as if the infraction never happened. If the defamation against you directly caused you to lose $100,000 in business, those are damages you’ll likely be able to recover if your claim is successful. Assuming there was no other factor causing you to lose that money, you would have had that money if the defamation had never occurred.
Types of Compensation
Here are the kinds of compensation you may be entitled to if your defamation claim succeeds:
- Lost earnings
- Lost future earnings
- Lost business opportunities
- Pain and suffering
- Any direct medical expenses
- Punitive damages
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Defamation?
You generally have only a year to file a defamation claim. Deadlines can vary by state, but the statute of limitations clock typically begins ticking from when the defamation happens, even if you don’t feel the effects for months! If you don’t file your claim in time, you may be completely barred from seeking compensation. Contact an attorney as soon as possible once you become aware of the defamation or disparagement against you.
How a Defamation Lawyer Can Help
Defamation cases can be some of the hardest ones. The line between a public and private figure is blurry. The line between true and false can be blurry. And how exactly do you prove damage to something invisible and intangible like reputation and prestige? With high-quality representation to help you navigate a complex area of law, you can seek compensation and try to restore your good name and business relationships.
What Does a Defamation Lawyer Cost?
Can you afford an attorney now, while your finances are feeling the effects of defamation? You can, with a litigation team that believes money shouldn’t be a barrier to justice.
We typically take defamation cases on a contingency fee basis. You pay nothing upfront — even the case evaluation is free. If we can’t recover compensation for you, we don’t collect an attorney’s fee. Simple as that. We only expect and receive an attorney’s fee if we win your case.2
Note: At our firm, we offer the contingency fee option and will also consider hourly fees, set fees, or a hybrid of all of the above fee structures.
How Do You Sue for Defamation or disparagement?
There are three key stages in suing for defamation or disparagement in civil court.
First, the claim needs to be filed. This is called the pleadings stage. After the defendant is notified of the defamation claim against him, he will have a chance to respond to the accusations.
Once a case makes it past the pleadings, it can enter into the discovery stage. During discovery, the plaintiff and defendant will exchange records and documents relating to the case. It is here that the plaintiff’s attorney might be able to acquire essential evidence establishing what the defendant knew and what their motivations were when making their allegedly defamatory claim.
During the trial portion (if the case proceeds this far), a jury may be selected so that they can render a verdict. The jury must determine complicated questions of fact, like whether the defendant acted unreasonably in defaming a private figure or maliciously in defaming a public figure. Depending on circumstances, the jury’s verdict may be subject to appeal.
Note: The plaintiff has the burden of proof. That means establishing a timeline of the defendant’s actions, possibly investigating the defendant’s motives, and providing evidence of damage to the plaintiff’s reputation. “He said, she said” ambiguities work to the defendant’s advantage. In a civil case, the plaintiff must establish that their version of events is more likely true than not (something called “preponderance of evidence”).
Experienced Defamation of Character Lawyers in NC
Our firm has 17 offices and over 200 employees — which means we have the size, infrastructure, and strength to go toe-to-toe with adversaries of any size on your behalf.
Hard work and hard-won experience are imprinted on our DNA. When clients need their measure of justice, our team’s effort and care can make the difference.
Did a corporate entity defame you and cause you severe business damages? Their size and resources shouldn’t allow them to trample your reputation and business interests.
3 Case handled prior to joining James Scott Farrin.