Vermont Defamation Laws

Defamation results when one person makes a false statement about another person, business or entity that harms that recipient’s reputation in a noticeable manner. According to Vermont law any defamation case has to follow certain rules and precautions in order to determine whether or not given statements qualify as defamation under the law.

Defenses and Arguments

When it comes to defamation, there are certain burdens of proof that rest on the two parties. The plaintiff must show that the statements made are false. For instance, if someone said that an individual had cheated on his wife with another woman then it is that individual’s burden to show he did not, proving the claim is false. This is a relatively new development in court, as any cases involving defamatory statements were presumed false and the entire burden lay on the defendant to prove they were not.

If the plaintiff has shown how the statements are false, it is up to the defendant to show how the claims are, in fact, true. Evidence needs to be given showing the jury that the statements made are in fact true, and are not defamatory in nature.

Damaging The Plaintiff’s Reputation

An important part of defamation is that the statements made were published in such a way that they would tend to harm the reputation of the individual in question. There is no requirement to show that the statements actually harmed the plaintiff’s good name, but the nature of the statements needs to be such that they could have.

For instance, whether someone claiming that a given restaurant actually served fried rats damaged that restaurant’s business and reputation is irrelevant. As long as the claim made could logically have caused damage to someone’s reputation, then it qualifies as defamation. Whether or not the defamatory statements are believed, they were still made, and it is the fact that they were made and published which breaks the law.

Jury Instructions

When juries are given instructions by the court, it is important for the court to weigh the case first so as to give proper instructions. If the court weighs that the accusations are cut and dry, and that a given situation could be defined as libel under the existing law, then it will simply be up to the jury to decide whether or not the statements published qualify as libel.

In situations where it unsure whether or not the statements made were in fact libelous, that is when the jury is given more explicit instructions. The jury then has to weigh whether or not statements published constitute as defamatory, and they are instructed that if statements are true then they do not qualify. Once the jury has decided whether or not a statement is by its nature defamatory, they then have to decide whether or not that statement would lead to a loss of reputation. Once that has been decided, the jury can render a decision that either agrees with the plaintiff, or agrees with the defendant.