Understanding defamation and the elements necessary to prove it

On Behalf of | Jun 2, 2022 | Defamation |

The term defamation has been in the news and on social media a lot lately. However, you might not understand exactly what it means.

According to Middle Tennessee State University’s The First Amendment Encyclopedia, defamation refers to a false written or spoken statement that causes reputational or financial damage. There are various elements that are necessary to prove that defamation occurred.

Basics of defamation law

Defamation can include libel (written statement) or slander (spoken statement). The statement must be false, and it must result in some type of damage to the targeted individual.

The standards for defamation for private citizens are different from those for public figures. To show that defamation occurred to a private citizen, the plaintiff only needs to show that the defendant was at fault, or negligent. In contrast, in a case involving a public figure, the plaintiff needs to prove the defendant acted with actual malice when making the statement. However, if the plaintiff in a case involving a private citizen wants to collect punitive damages, he or she must also prove actual malice.

Elements needed to win a defamation lawsuit

FindLaw discusses that a plaintiff must be able to show the court a number of things to prove that defamation occurred. One is that a person conducted libel or slander, and another is that a third party heard or read the statement.

A third element is that the statement caused reputational harm resulting in damages of some sort. This could include special damages or actual injury. The plaintiff must prove that the statement was false and not just an opinion. Finally, the statement must fall into the unprivileged category. For example, a false statement made at a trial is a privileged one, so it does not fall under defamation.