An Introduction to Defamation Lawsuits
Posted in Lawsuit on March 27, 2017
The first amendment protects the right to free speech. It does not, however, give people the right to knowingly and maliciously issue a false statement about someone. Defamation laws protect both private citizens and public figures. If a reporter, social media influencer, or another person published a lie about you to ruin your reputation, you may have a valid defamation lawsuit under Missouri laws.
Types of Defamation
Understanding what does and does not constitute defamation is the first step in pursuing a defamation lawsuit. Defamation can be either slander or libel. Libel occurs when someone writes something untrue and damaging; slander is when someone verbally states something untrue and damaging. Defamation can arise in any medium under the right circumstances, including:
- Verbal rumors spread in a local community.
- False written and video statements made online (social media, forums, articles, etc.).
- False statements delivered on air (radio and television).
- False statements published in print (newspapers, magazines, books, etc.).
- False statements recorded in permanent records (personnel files, incident reports, etc.).
The law considers certain statements privileged and free from liability. For example, plaintiffs cannot hold witnesses under oath accountable for slander. Witnesses enjoy protections to ensure they recount all relevant details during statements and testimony. A witness might face claims of perjury for making a false statement.
While the terms are straightforward, identifying and proving defamation is not always so simple. A false statement alone does not constitute defamation of character, and people are not liable for holding negative opinions about others. You can feel that someone is a bad person and talk about it in public without concern, but you cannot make up falsehoods to harm that person.
Components of a Defamation Lawsuit
The plaintiff in a defamation lawsuit bears the burden of proof. In any defamation case, he or she must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the statement or published word the defendant issued was false and that lie harmed the plaintiff. Hurt feelings may not constitute enough harm to warrant a lawsuit. People generally file lawsuits when a falsehood damages careers, business outcomes, professional reputations, or other financial injury. Plaintiffs must prove actual harm, not the potential for harm, in a claim.
In Missouri, plaintiffs must satisfy all of the following requirements to prove defamation:
- A statement was communicated to a third party.
- The statement was, in fact, defamatory.
- It reasonably identified the plaintiff.
- It was false.
- They acted in a way that created a requisite degree of fault.
- The plaintiff suffered measurable damage.
The degree of fault a defendant bears depends on the status of the plaintiff. A private citizen must only show the defendant actually published the false statement. A public figure, on the other hand, must prove the defendant acted with actual malice. Actual malice may mean with knowledge of the lie or a wanton disregard for the truth of the statement.
A knowledgeable defense attorney can use several defenses to diminish a plaintiff’s claim for compensation. Anyone who wishes to pursue a defamation claim must prepare for privileges and defenses that may change a defendant’s degree of liability.
Compensation in Defamation Lawsuits
To succeed in a defamation suit and secure compensation, plaintiffs must prove and quantify the amount of damage associated with an untrue statement. A plaintiff may secure compensation for lost business, damaged career opportunities, and other financial losses associated with an act of defamation. Damages differ from case to case, and an attorney can help individuals determine the value of a possible case in Missouri courts.
Defamation claims represent an intricate area of law, and the outcome and damages awarded to a plaintiff may come down to a jury’s opinion. An Kansas City personal injury lawyer who understands the nuances of defamation and privacy laws can help you determine if a defamation case or another legal strategy makes more sense.