Defamation is the making of a false statement concerning a person or business that damages that person’s or business’s reputation. If a false statement is made and that person or business’s reputation is damaged, there can be legal consequences for the person who made the statement.
Defamation applies to both written and oral statements that are published to third parties. Publication includes the posting of material on the Internet. Defamation can either be a statement that is verbal or written. If a defamatory statement is made verbally, it’s called slander. If a defamatory statement is published in writing, it’s called libel.
In order to sue someone for a defamatory statement, there are six elements that must be satisfied:
1. The statement must be false. If the statement is true, the person making the statement will be protected from liability.
2. The statement cannot be privileged. There are many situations were a statement may be protected by privilege. For example, if the statement repeats material from a court proceeding, or other public documents, the statement is privileged. Privileged statements are not subject to liability in a lawsuit.
3. The statement cannot be an opinion. Statements that cannot be proven to be true or false and are opinion cannot for the basis of a claim for defamation. If a statement can be proven or disproven by objective fact and the statement is false, a person may be liable for defamation.
4. The statement must be “published.” The statement must be heard or read by someone other than the person the statement is about. For example, a private e-mail between two parties is not defamation. However, if the e-mail is sent to co-workers, friends, or is posted for others to see on the internet, then this likely qualifies as publication for purposes of defamation.
5. The statement must actually cause reputational damage. Statements about someone that would make others not want to associate with them, accuses them of a crime, having a loathsome disease, or concerns a person being unchaste are all examples of defamatory statements that cause actual reputational harm.
6. The statement must be believable by a reasonable person. If one cannot seriously believe the statement was true, it does not constitute defamation.
Defamation Per Se
In some circumstances a statement will always be considered defamatory and will be assumed to harm a person’s reputation without the need to provide proof of harm. These types of statements are referred to as being defamation “per se.” Statements that qualify as being defamation per se typically involve falsely statements regarding: a criminal offense, a loathsome disease, a persons business or professional occupation or trade, or sexual infedelity/misconduct.
Lawsuits resulting from defamatory statements made on the Internet are on the rise. If you believe that you or your business is a victim of a defamatory statement made on the internet, contact the experienced internet defamation attorneys at Meyers Roman Friedberg & Lewis, LPA to evaluate your case. The laws regarding defamation vary depending on the state. In many instances, it is possible for an attorney to completely remove defamatory statements from the web. Call (216) 831-0042 today to find out more information.