There is quite a fragile relationship between the right to freedom of speech and the right to protect a reputation. It can be challenging to determine which statements about a person are okay to make and which violate defamation laws.
According to the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute (LII), “Defamation is a statement that injures a third party's reputation. The tort of defamation includes both libel (written statements) and slander (spoken statements).”
As you can tell, defamation is an umbrella term used to describe any statement that harms a person’s reputation and is also commonly known as defamation of character.
If someone states something damaging about you in writing and it is published, the defamation is referred to as libel. When the harmful words are stated orally, it is considered slander.
Defamation is regarded as a civil wrong or a tort. This means if you suffer harm as a result of a defamatory statement, defamation law provides you with the right to pursue litigation against the person who made the damaging statement.
Read on to learn more of the details you should know about defamation.
The Fragile Relationship Between Freedom of Speech and Avoiding Defamation
It can be difficult to discern when someone can be held accountable for defamation, given the strong freedom of speech laws in the United States.
On one side, you should be able to speak freely about your life experiences without being afraid of having a lawsuit filed against you for saying something unfavorable about another, so long as you are honest.
On the other side, you also have the right not to have inaccurate information that is harmful to your reputation spread about you.
The absolute defense is a factual statement that sheds light on what is true versus what is not, and will determine the outcome of the case once proved. At this point, the successful party may pursue a lawsuit for punitive damages against the wrongful party, depending on the specific circumstances of the case.
How to Prove Defamation in a Court of Law
In order to prove prima facie defamation, you must be able to prove the following four general elements:
- Someone made a false claim asserting that it is a fact,
- The false statement was published or otherwise communicated to a third party,
- The person is at fault for at least negligent acts, and
- You sustained quantifiable harm as a result of the untrue statements.
California Defamation Laws
California Code, Civil Code - CIV § 48 is the section of the law that handles defamation legality. First, it’s helpful to understand some of the particular definitions of the terms listed in the legislation, including:
- General Damages
- Damages for:
- Loss of reputation,
- Mortification, or
- Hurt feelings.
- Damages for:
- Special Damages
- Damages you incur to your:
- Profession, or
- These damages account for the amount of money you can prove you have lost due to the defamation.
- Damages you incur to your:
- Exemplary Damages
- Damages you can recover in addition to any general and special damages you are awarded in order to punish the negligent party for their wrongful acts.
- Actual Malice
- The state of mind that comes about due to hatred or ill will toward another.
- Daily or Weekly News Publication
- A publication in print or digital form that contains information about matters of public concern and publishes no less than once per week.
Now that you have a better understanding of some of the language found in the legislation, the law as it’s written should make more sense.
California Civil Code 48
According to the California Civil (CIV) Code 48,
- (a) Only special damages are recoverable for those who suffer losses due to a libel in a daily or weekly news publication, or of a slander by radio broadcast, unless an amendment is ordered and is not published or broadcasted. You must demand an amendment of the publisher where they published the libel, or broadcaster at the location of the broadcast. The amendment must specify the particular claims that are libelous and order that they are corrected. You must do so within 20 days of learning about the defamatory statement.
- (b) You may be able to recover general, special, and exemplary damages if:
- You demand the correction within 20 days,
- The correction is not published or broadcasted in an equally conspicuous manner as the damaging statements,
- The correction is not published or broadcasted on the same outlet as the defamatory statement, and
- The correction is not published or broadcasted within three weeks after you demand the amendment.
- (c) If an amendment is adequately published or broadcasted before receiving a demand for correction, the situation will be treated as though the adjustment had been made within three weeks after a demand for correction.
Some of the Practical Ways Defamation Can Occur
Harmful statements that can be held accountable for defamation are typically made on the following platforms:
- Letters to the editors of local newspapers,
- Public comments on media websites (such as newspapers, magazines, and social media),
- Blog posts,
- Comments on blog posts, and
- Internet chatrooms or listservers.
While social media is a helpful tool that has grown widely in popularity throughout the past several years, it has also made it much easier for libel to occur. You may be able to hold someone accountable for defamation that occurs on social media if the person posts content that damages your reputation or character.
The harmful content could be completely inaccurate, or it could be an exaggeration of the truth. In some cases, defamatory statements are relayed as absolute truths but contain falsehoods or neglect to tell the entire story as the events truly occurred.
It is important to keep in mind that defamatory statements can bridge the gaps between various social media platforms. For instance, if someone makes harmful statements about you on Facebook, the damaging words can quickly and easily make their way over to Twitter and Instagram.
Slanderous words can be stated anywhere and to anyone, so long as they are a third party (someone other than the person experiencing defamation).
For instance, if a friend of yours tells defamatory information about you to another friend, you may be able to hold him or her accountable for defamation if you can prove you’ve sustained quantifiable harm due to the slanderous statements.
We’re Here to Help Victims of Defamation
Having your reputation harmed as a result of another’s untrue statement should never occur. It is unacceptable to have your good name tarnished as a result of someone else’s ill will toward you. However, if such a situation does occur, you deserve to recover the maximum amount of compensation possible to make up for your losses.
Our skilled team has helped many others in similar situations recover the maximum allowable compensation for their defamation cases, and we may be able to help you with your slander or libel case too. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our office right away to learn more about what our experienced team can do to help protect your legal rights.