Among the six elements required for someone to successfully sue another for defamation is the requirement that the statement be false. If the statement is true, there is no liability and there can be no recovery.
According to common law the burden of proof relative to the truth or falsity of a statement is on the defendant. Truth is an absolute defense, but there are several considerations in determining the truth or falsity of a statement.
It should be noted that the issue of fault, as well as on whom the burden of proof falls, is somewhat uncertain given recent Supreme Court decisions. In most states common law still presumes the falsity of a statement alleged to be defamatory, but in a few states the waters have been muddied a bit where this rule is concerned. Recent Supreme Court decisions have held that the defendant must be found at fault regarding whether the statement published is true or false, and a few courts are now putting the burden of proof as to truth or falsity on the plaintiff rather than the defendant.
A few states also now have statutes allowing truth as a defense only if the end motive justifies its publication. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, continues to indicate that these statutes would likely be unconstitutional, in that they violate the First Amendment. Garrison v. Louisiana,379 U.S. 64, 85 S.Ct. 209, 13 L.Ed.2d 125 (1964); Time, Inc. v. Firestone, 424 U.S. 448, 96 S.Ct. 958, 47 L.Ed.2d 154 (1976).
Court decisions and varying state laws have made it difficult to determine what constitutes a true statement when considering a defamation claim. The experienced attorneys at Meyers Roman Friedberg & Lewis, LPA can help you assess your case and who has the burden of proving that truth. Call today at (216) 831-0042.