Clawson and Staubes’ defamation attorneys have extensive experience representing individuals and businesses in defamation lawsuits in state and federal courts. Warren Buffett once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” With the arrival of social media, there are more opportunities than ever for someone to defame your representation or accuse you of defaming their representation. Our defamation attorneys represent both plaintiffs and defendants in defamation cases and have the experience necessary to evaluate your claim and assist you in seeking a favorable result.
Defamation is the act of making false statements about another which damages or tends to damage their reputation. There are two types of defamation: libel and slander. Libel involves written communication, as well as communication by broadcast media. Slander consists of the publication of defamatory matter by spoken words, transitory gestures or by any form of communication other than those defined as part of libel.
To recover for defamation, a plaintiff must prove: (1) a defamatory and false statement was made; (2) the defamatory and false statement was unprivileged and published to a third party; (3) The statement caused special harm to the plaintiff, or was extremely defamatory regardless of whether it caused harm; and (4) the accused is at fault.
The defamatory meaning of a message or statement may be obvious from the language itself. Such statements are defamatory per se. For example, “Amanda is a thief.” When an act constitutes defamation per se, there is no need to prove actual malice or damages. However, if it is necessary to refer to facts or circumstances beyond the language itself in order to clarify the defamatory meaning of the statement, it is defamatory per quod. For example, “Hillary had a baby,” but she happens to be unmarried. In this case, a plaintiff must show actual harm.
There are two categories of plaintiffs involved in defamation lawsuits. Different standards apply depending on whether the person is considered a public or private figure. A public figure must prove the defamatory statement was made with “actual malice” by clear and convincing evidence. To meet this standard, the plaintiff must show the defendant made the statement with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard for its truth. However, a private figure must prove only negligence by a preponderance of evidence.
There are several defenses to defamation. An absolute privilege is a complete bar to liability for defamatory statements. Truth is perhaps the most widely asserted absolute defense. After all, if a statement is true, then a main element of the tort of defamation – a false statement – cannot be established. A qualified privilege may bar liability for defamatory statements if not abused. Two specific qualified privilege defenses are the “fair report” privilege and the “wire service privilege.”
Damages in defamation cases include a special category of “special damages” unique to this type of claim. Special damages in defamation cases include loss of money, property, business, profession and occupation. These special damages must be tied to the plaintiff’s general damages, which can include damage to reputation, mental suffering, hurt feelings, humiliation or other similar categories incapable of definitive calculation.
Laws governing defamation are complex and be difficult to understand and navigate. Claims can require analysis and mastery of a complex set of facts and legal principles. Our firm has experience bringing and defending defamation claims in state and federal courts. Please contact Clawson and Staubes when you need to defend or protect your reputation.