Defamation Law 101: A Two-Minute Legal Guide

defamation law introductory legal guide
An easy-to-digest defamation legal guide.

The Four Pillars of Defamation Law (AKA, What You Must Prove To Win A Defamation Lawsuit)

Legally, defamation is more than just “trash talk”; it’s an unprivileged and false statement of fact that causes the subject material or reputational harm. At the bare minimum, in the United States, to a win a slander (spoken defamation) or libel (written defamation) lawsuit, a plaintiff must prove:

  • That the defendant either published or publicly broadcast an unprivileged lie;
  • The “untruth” was about the plaintiff;
  • The statement under review caused material or reputational harm to the plaintiff; and
  • That the defendant acted with either a) negligence or b) actual malice.

What Is The Best Way To Avoid Defamation?

We’re defamation law attorneys, and, therefore, often asked: “How can I avoid being defamed?”

Unfortunately, there isn’t an answer to this question. In a way, it’s like asking: “How can I avoid rain for the rest of my life?” You’re not in control of the weather, nor are you in control of other people’s actions.

No matter how wonderful you are, there is no guarantee that someone won’t spread false rumors about you. You could be the nicest person in the world, but that doesn’t mean a competitor won’t try to gain an edge by hiring someone to libel your company or product.

What To Do If You’re The Target Of Defamatory Remarks

There isn’t much you can do to avoid being defamed, but you can take steps to mitigate the damage if attacked.

  1. Don’t claw back ASAP. Though your temper may be rightly piqued by false public accusations, it isn’t wise to bite back. If you can stay calm in a response to an online detractor, by all means, reply calmly. But if there’s a chance your reply will read as snarky, temper-filled or otherwise off-putting, refrain from replying. Let your calmer head prevail before responding.
  2. Contact an attorney and explain the situation. Find out the best legal options for your unique situation. Depending on the jurisdiction, you’ve got between one and three years to file a claim. Let a qualified attorney hear the facts of the case; let him or her tell you if you have a viable defamation claim. You can also learn the basics of defamation law here.
  3. If you decide to move forward legally, it’s important to gather as much information as possible, as close to the event as possible. Why? As a plaintiff in a U.S. slander or libel claim, the burden of proof is on your shoulders. Don’t just bookmark the pages, as they may be taken down. Be sure to make hard copies of any web page that contains the contested material.

Kelly / Warner handles all types of defamation law cases. Click here to learn more about our defamation legal practice. To speak with an attorney about your situation, contact us.