Freedom of speech is one of the cornerstones of society here in the United States. However, we also have defamation law, which people use to protect their good name. This law applies to statements made by others that could be harmful to their reputation or ability to work. It may be considered libel is if is put in writing; it is can be slander if it is a statement. Slander is considered less harmful because it is spoken and potentially forgotten, while libel puts it in writing and can be read by many after the fact. If either of these occurs, the plaintiff may be able to sue.
What plaintiff needs to prove
There are several elements to a defamation lawsuit:
- The statement is made: A person makes a questionable statement about someone else.
- It is published or recorded in some way: A third party must see, hear and read the defamatory statement.
- Injury is suffered: The plaintiff must then prove that they suffered injury to their reputation because of the statement. Injury is often loss of income or work.
- False statement: The statement is considered defamatory if it is false, although an opinion expressed is protected.
- The setting is not privileged: Privileged settings are places where a person is expected to speak the truth, such as during a witness’s testimony.
It is hard to tell these days
It is easier now than ever to express an opinion thanks to social media. Unfortunately, it is too easy, so many try to get their voice above the fray by making outrageous statements. These may get the desired attention, but they may be false or grossly exaggerated.
While politicians and public figures have fewer protections than the average citizen, it may be particularly important to defend themselves. Regardless of whether the plaintiff is a film star, athlete or public servant, it is in their best interests to protect their reputation or image. To do this they may need to consult with an attorney to determine if unflattering statements by others cross the line from opinion. The attorney may then be able to defend that reputation and hold the other side accountable in a court of law.