Defamation of Character: When Can You Sue for Slander?
Not all injuries involve physical harm. When someone knowingly makes false statements about another person with the intent to do harm, that can potentially have serious consequences. Certain types of accusations can potentially damage a person’s reputation to the extent that they get fired from a job, have a difficult time finding work, or make their day-to-day life so difficult that they need to move to a new location. In these sorts of drastic situations, damages caused by defamation might be considered a form of personal injury.
Defamation can occur in two main ways: libel and slander. Libel occurs when false, defamatory statements are published in some way, such as in a news article, blog post, or social media post. Slander is when the false and defamatory statement is made verbally, whether it’s in a one-on-one conversation or in a speech to a large crowd of people.
In order for a statement to be considered slander or libel, the statement needs to be false. No matter how harmful a statement may be, truth can be a legal defense. The statement also needs to be presented as a fact, not an opinion. For instance, stating that you think a certain person is annoying is very different from falsely telling that person’s boss or coworkers that a person has a history of professional misconduct. The opinion likely wouldn’t significantly impact the person’s life in any way, but the statement about professional misconduct would likely put their career in jeopardy. However, if a person states something as an opinion, but it’s reasonably intended to cast doubt on another person’s character in a serious way, that could possibly be considered defamatory.
To be able to sue for damages caused by defamation, the statement also needs to have caused specific damages to a person’s reputation. For example, in 2017, a wedding photographer in Dallas was awarded over $1 million in damages after a client maliciously made false statements to the local media after a misunderstanding over a fee. As the story went viral, the client also used social media to do further damage to the photographer’s career, eventually damaging the photographer’s reputation so badly that she lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit was forced to close her studio.
For a statement to be defamatory, it also needs to have been made to a third party. If a person writes a false statement in something like a personal journal or in a letter sent directly to the person being talked about, then that would not be considered defamatory.
A good reputation is priceless and if you think you’ve been defamed, consulting a personal injury lawyer will help answer your questions. Defamation cases can be complicated, so it’s important to get legal assistance if you’re thinking of pursuing a lawsuit.