Qualified Privilege: An Effective Defamation Defense

Let's talk about privilege as it relates to defamation lawsuits.
Let’s talk about privilege as it relates to defamation lawsuits.

One way to win a defamation lawsuit is to successfully argue privilege. So what does that mean?

In the simplest terms, privilege is when one person tells something to another person either out of obligation or because it’s understood that the relationship between the two parties is inherently confidential. Common, self-explanatory examples of recognized privileged relationships include:

  • Attorney-Client Privilege (Solicitor-Client in commonwealth countries)
  • Marital Privilege
  • Self-Incrimination
  • Doctor-Client Privilege
  • Clergy-Penitent Privilege
  • Accountant-Client Privilege
  • States Secrets Privilege

In addition to the above, three other types of privilege often play a role in defamation lawsuits since “privileged communication” is a valid defense against slander and libel charges.

Defamation of Character Privilege Defense: Reporter’s Privilege

Nearly everybody has an understanding of reporter’s privilege. Simply stated, it’s the standard that journalists don’t have to reveal their sources to law enforcement or public officials. Notionally, it’s how the Fourth Estate keeps its neutrality (though, these days, news neutrality has gone the way of box cars).

What everyone might not know is that reporter’s privilege rules vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In fact, 10 of the 50 U.S. States don’t even have so-called “Shield Laws” – which formally protect journalists’ right not to reveal their contacts. As such, if you’re a blogger or journalists facing a defamation lawsuit, be sure to know the shield laws (or lack thereof) in your jurisdiction, or find an attorney who does. That doesn’t mean you have to hire a lawyer from your jurisdiction – but you should find one that focuses on defamation law, regardless of location, because a seasoned libel lawyer will have a more nuanced understanding of local and state defamation laws – which is often what you need to win a defamation lawsuit.

Defamation of Character Privilege Defense: Qualified Privilege

Qualified privilege gets a lot of defendants off the hook in defamation lawsuits. Essentially, qualified privilege kicks in when an individual (or entity) feels some sort of compunction – socially, morally or legally — to relay information to another person or entity. For example, an employee may feel they have no other option than to tell a superior a given piece of information – a piece of information that could ultimately turn out to be defamatory.

In order for a communication to qualify as privileged in a defamation lawsuit, two factors must be met:

  1. The person must have acted without malice, and
  2. The person who received the information had a reason to receive it.

Defamation of Character Privilege Defense:  Absolute Privilege

Another type of privilege used as a defense against defamation of character charges is absolute privilege. In order for absolute privilege to stand, the statements in question must have been a necessary utterance in the course of quasi-judicial proceeding.

Hire A Defamation Lawyer

Are you involved in a defamation conflict? Do you need to speak with an attorney about your options? If yes, contact Kelly Warner Law. Our team of attorneys has helped many people with their slander and libel troubles. We know the fastest way to rectify a defamation situation and can take control of your situation to get it settled quickly. Contact us to get started.

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