Defamation Lawsuit Dismissal: Basic U.S. Standards

picture of business man looking upset to accompany blog post about defamation lawsuit dismissalsWinning a slander or libel lawsuit isn’t easy. At times, the rules prove frustrating for legitimate defamation victims. So, we thought we’d take a few minutes to discuss some key points when it comes to libel law and avoiding a defamation lawsuit dismissal.

Defamation Lawsuit Dismissal Case Study: Nelson v. SI

A judge dismissed Reeves Nelson’s defamation lawsuit against Sports Illustrated. “Not The UCLA Way,” a George Dohrmann article appearing in a 2012 issue, anchored the case. In the piece, Dohrmann attributed the former UCLA basketball player’s ouster to “poor behavior.” In response, Nelson sued for defamation.

Ultimately, the judge ruled in favor of Dohrmann, on account of his extensive research.

Nelson v. SI highlights an important aspect of U.S. defamation law: Inaccurate statements aren’t automatically defamatory — especially when defendants can prove research due diligence.

Avoiding a defamation lawsuit dismissal, in cases like this, is very difficult, if not impossible. Why? Because of free speech. If someone can prove that he or she truly believed a statement, and did adequate research, it’s considered “fair reporting” or “fair comment” and, therefore, not defamatory.

Reasons Why A Disparaging Statement May Not Be Defamatory

To win a defamation lawsuit, in the United States, plaintiffs — at the minimum — must prove:

  1. The assertions in question were false statements of fact (opinion is not defamation);
  2. The statement was communicated to other parties by the plaintiff; and
  3. The defendant(s) knowingly made false statements, with the intent to harm.

If a plaintiff can’t satisfy the three basic requirements, the defendant usually wins.

“It’s my opinion!” Isn’t Always A Viable Defamation Defense

“OK,” you reason, “if opinion isn’t defamatory, then I’ll just slap a qualifier on all my content, declaring that everything I write is ‘only my opinion.'”

Sorry to burst your loophole bubble, but it doesn’t work like that. Slapping an “IMO” in front of a false statement of fact doesn’t magically shield it from the long arm of the law.

Blogger’s Beware

Bloggers should be especially careful. A study recently found that amateur online authors are more likely to lose defamation suits than professional journalists. Why? The nature of blogging encourages concise, aggressive language. And concise, aggressive language can easily cross the “opinion line” into “defamation territory.”

Can You Sue For Defamation?

Are you thinking of suing for online defamation? Consider some things, first.

  1. First check to see if the defamation statutes of limitations has run out in your jurisdiction if you’re filing in a state court. Check with a defamation lawyer to find out if you can sue in a federal court.
  2. If the statements in question were said in confidence, and therefore considered privileged, you may not have a case. Check out this database of state U.S. defamation laws to see how your jurisdiction deals with privileged comments, as it relates to defamation.
  3. To avoid an outright dismissal, early on, make sure you have evidence proving that the statements in question are (a) false and (b) caused harm. If your business is suffering, gather receivables to illustrate a downward trend, in relation to the defamatory statement.

Questions About A Defamation Lawsuit Dismissal?

Ready to speak with a defamation attorney? Get in touch. We can help repair your good name.