If someone is telling lies about you or your business that have hurt your reputation and standing in the community, you may want to talk to a defamation lawyer. Defamation lawyers specialize in cases where reputations are on the line. While it may not always be a good idea to file a defamation suit, evaluating your options with a qualified defamation lawyer may help you find peace of mind or a new way to battle the defamatory remarks.
What is defamation?
Defamation is any statement that hurts a reputation—whether that reputation belongs to a human being or an organization. But in order for it to be legally actionable defamation (that is, if you want to have any chance of defamation lawyers taking your case), that statement has to be several things:
Published: this doesn't just mean in a newspaper or magazine. Even just saying a statement in public “publishes” it for general consumption.
False: Truth is an absolute defense to defamation. If it was true, then no matter how much it hurt someone's reputation, they cannot win a defamation lawsuit against the person saying it.
Injurious: in order for a statement to be defamatory, it has to actually hurt your reputation—provably. If you can't prove that you were injured by the statement, your defamation lawyer will tell you that you're unlikely to collect.
Unprivileged: Some people in some circumstances (usually pertaining to the legal or lawmaking process) have free speech privilege that makes defamation law inapplicable. For instance, a Senator could never be successfully sued for defamation based on an otherwise defamatory remark made in the Senate chamber.
Should I file a defamation lawsuit?
One of the biggest reasons to consult a defamation lawyer is to get advice over whether to file a defamation lawsuit once you have been defamed. For many reasons, starting a defamation suit is not always the outcome most defamation lawyers prefer. By suing the person making the defamatory statement, some defamation lawyers say, the individual or business being defamed brings attention to the false claim, making it even more hurtful than it was before. Other times, the potential damages you may collect could be so small that a defamation lawyer might advise you against suing.
Talking to an experienced defamation lawyer can help you to assess not only whether you have a defamation case that would hold up at trial, but also whether you want to be filing a suit in the first place. Some defamation lawyers can help you to find other legal alternatives to a defamation suit, or advise the hiring of public relations professionals as an alternative to a civil suit.
Libel vs. Slander
The requirement that defamation be “published” can be confusing. If a defamatory statement is only published by someone saying it, unrecorded (or at least without being played back), it constitutes slander. A defamatory recorded, played-back statement, or a statement published in a print publication, is libel. Both types of statements can be defamation, but due to the permanence of a recording, slander generally has a significantly smaller impact on reputation (and, consequently, a smaller chance of being taken to trial by a defamation lawyer).
One group of people who have a particularly difficult time filing any kind of defamation suit are celebrities and other public figures. A defamation lawyer has a particularly difficult time with defamation suits by politicians and celebrities. Why? Because under the law, in order to prove a defamation claim as a public figure, you must not only prove the ordinary elements of defamation but also that the person defaming you acted “with actual malice.”
While it may seem like this would be easy to prove, most defamation lawyers will tell you that celebrities and public figures have an incredibly difficult time successfully suing for defamation. The line between a public and private figure is not incredibly bright, however, and you may want to consult with a defamation lawyer if you are unsure of whether you might be considered a public figure.
In today's increasingly internet-dependent world, online defamation has become a major source of anxiety and worry for some individuals and small businesses—and a lucrative source of income for defamation lawyers. Whether the defamation is as the result of cyberbullying by classmates or unethical competitors planting false reviews of a restaurant, a defamation lawyer can assess the situation to help you better understand your legal options and your rights.
In many cases, defamation lawyers can even help you to have defamatory search results taken down without a lawsuit. By composing cease and desist letters to web hosting companies and webmasters, an online defamation lawyer can quietly resolve many online defamation issues without ever entering a courtroom. Defamation lawyers can also help you to investigate defamatory online statements to determine who said them.
After investigating defamatory statements about you or your business online, your defamation lawyer can often repair your online reputation within days or weeks, forcing websites to delete pages that embarrass you or your company.
What to Bring to the Lawyer
If you have been defamed, it is important that you can show to your defamation lawyer at the initial consultation that your case meets all the requirements to be legally actionable defamation. Make sure that you bring copies of any publication of the defamatory statements, as well as any proof you may have that the statements are false, to your defamation lawyers.
It is also important that you show injury to your reputation. If friends or family have stopped talking to you, or if valued clients have stopped utilizing your services, because of a defamatory statement, your defamation lawyer will also want to see supporting documentation in order to assess the level of injury that your reputation has suffered. Once your lawyer has listened to your case, he will indicate to you whether it is possible to take the case on contingency, in which case you only pay a fee if you win. Unlike many personal injury lawsuits, however, defamation is harder to win large verdicts on, and many defamation lawyers only rarely take cases on contingency.