Defamation includes both slander and libel. Generally, slander occurs when the reputation or good name of someone is damaged as a result of false statements that are made orally. Libel, on the other hand, occurs when false statements regarding another are put in writing.
Whether a particular statement, oral or written, constitutes defamation in the nature of slander or libel will depend upon the particular circumstances and the identity of the parties. To prevail in a defamation lawsuit, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant made a false and defamatory statement about the plaintiff that was communicated to a third party. Thus, a false and objectionable statement sent in an e-mail to the plaintiff’s co-worker may be libelous. The plaintiff can usually succeed by showing the communication was either intentional or negligent. Finally, it is also possible for the plaintiff to bring a libel suit where the plaintiff repeats the alleged defamatory statement. This is called self-publication. This can occur, for example, when an individual applies for a job and has to tell the prospective employer about something the previous employer said that was false.
Before beginning a libel or slander lawsuit, the plaintiff must determine whether or not the objectionable statement is true. No matter how damaging, insensitive, rude or inappropriate a statement may be, the plaintiff will lose if the statement is true.
The “public” plaintiff has additional hurdles to overcome to recover for libel or slander. An example of a public figure is a politician. Along with establishing all of the regular elements of the tort, a plaintiff who is a public figure must also show that the defendant knew the false statement was false, or at least acted with reckless disregard as to its truthfulness. Newspapers may escape liability for libel when they merely report false statements as long as the paper had no particular reason to doubt the statement at the time it was printed.
Finally, the plaintiff often has to prove economic harm in order to recover on a defamation suit. Therefore, the plaintiff may need to be able to demonstrate a loss of business as a result of the defamation in order to establish a right to the recovery of money. However, some types of statements are so damaging that the plaintiff does not have to prove any economic loss. These statements tend to be those that accuse the plaintiff of sexual impropriety or criminal conduct.