Defamation is when a person makes reputation reuining false statements of fact, about a person, product of business. The statements can be written (libel) or spoken (slander).
To win a defamation lawsuit in Texas, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant:
- Made a false statement or fact about the plaintiff to a third party;
- Made a statement that caused the plaintiff reputational or material harm;
- Acted either negligently or purposefully.
Both public figures and public officials must prove there was “actual malice,” which is the phrase used in Texas law, in any defamation statement made against them. The phrase indicates that the statement or charge was made even though the defendant knew it was false and disregarded the fact that it was false. A private citizen, however, does not have to prove actual malice, only that the statements were negligent. That means “reasonable care” was not taken by the defendant to find out if the statements were false.
Texas also has a defamation charge known as “defamation per se.” It refers to some statements that anyone would or should know are likely to injure a person’s reputation. These statements include charging that someone has a sexually transmitted disease or is engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage or is a child abuser.
A change in Texas defamation law was proposed in March 2013, intended to cut out long, costly slander and libel cases in the court system. The new process has three simple steps. 1. The injured party requests the publisher or speaker to retract or remove the material. The request must be submitted within 90 days of the written or spoken offense. 2. The accused can ask for an explanation for the retraction or removal. 3. If the accused agrees to retraction or removal, it must be done in the same manner as the original. For example, if the original story ran on page 2 of the local newspaper, the retraction must do the same. Texas officials hope the shortened process will bring long litigation cases to a quicker close.
A defamation lawsuit that closed in Texas in 2012 is an example of the lengthy cases and high paybacks that sometimes result. A Texas couple filed a defamation charge three years earlier against posters on the Internet that charged them with being drug dealers and sexual deviants, among other things. In April 2012, the Texas court sided with the couple and awarded them more than $13 million.