What is considered defamation? Please explain the reasoning because I'm quite confused!

Asked about 2 years ago - San Diego, CA

I've researched this topic a bit but no one has really provided a clear explanation.

Would calling someone a liar, dishonest, manipulator, unethical, a person who will take advantage of others be considered defamation? If someone screws me over can I call that person a "bad" person who people should avoid? Does my reasoning for making these statements matter? Would statements like "he has no friends" or "other people don't even like him" or "all he does is write marketing letters all day" qualify as defamation?

On a sidenote, if someone promises me something or makes a statement verbally that later isn't upheld or true and I post a comment about it and later get sued for defamation, how could either of us even prove what happened without any evidence?

Thanks so much!

Attorney answers (4)

  1. Frank Wei-Hong Chen

    Contributor Level 20


    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Defamation consists of both libel and slander.

    California Civil Code 45 provides that: “A libel which is defamatory of the plaintiff without the necessity of explanatory matter, such as an inducement, innuendo or other extrinsic fact, is said to be a libel on its face. Defamatory language not libelous on its face is not actionable unless the plaintiff alleges and proves that he has suffered special damage as a proximate result thereof. Special damage is defined in Section 48a of this code.”

    As to slander, California Civil Code 46 provides that: “Slander is a false and unprivileged publication, orally uttered, and also communications by radio or any mechanical or other means which:

    1. Charges any person with crime, or with having been indicted, convicted, or punished for crime;
    2. Imputes in him the present existence of an infectious, contagious, or loathsome disease;
    3. Tends directly to injure him in respect to his office, profession, trade or business, either by imputing to him general disqualification in those respects which the office or other occupation peculiarly requires, or by imputing something with reference to his office, profession, trade, or business that has a natural tendency to lessen its profits;
    4. Imputes to him impotence or a want of chastity; or
    5. Which, by natural consequence, causes actual damage.”

    Just calling someone a liar, dishonest or unethical probably wouldn't constitute actionable defamation.

    Opinions are not actionable defamation.

    Truth is an absolute defense to defamation.

    Any lawsuit requires evidence to prove each of the elements for each cause of action.

    For any defamation claim to succeed, the plaintiff must both allege and prove damages. Damages are usually the most difficult obstacle for anyone suing for defamation.

    Frank W. Chen has been licensed to practice law in California since 1988. The information presented here is... more
  2. Benjamin Russell Anderson

    Contributor Level 11


    Lawyers agree

    Answered . I believe we need some more facts to truly understand the context in which you made these statements, but if what you have said about this individual is in fact true, then you have a defense to the defamation action. Be ready to demonstrate the truth behind your statements, though. If you have been sued, I recommend consulting with a local attorney who handles the defense of such matters.

  3. Lars A. Lundeen


    Contributor Level 20


    Lawyers agree

    Answered . To answer your question, I suggest that you review the Legal Guide I have published on Avvo.com which deals with defamation and what it is. You can access my Legal Guides through my profile page.

    Legal Disclaimer:

    If this information has been helpful, please indicate below.

    Mr. Lundeen is licensed to practice law in Florida and Vermont. The response herein is not legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship. The response is in the form of legal education and is intended to provide general information about the matter within the question. Oftentimes the question does not include significant and important facts and timelines that, if known, could significantly change the reply and make it unsuitable. Mr. Lundeen strongly advises the questioner to confer with an attorney in your state in order to ensure proper advice is received.

  4. Michelle A. Perfili

    Contributor Level 13


    Lawyers agree

    Answered . In addition to the above answers realize that an analysis of defamation includes a review of the actual communication, the status of the person referred to (which effects the standard of proving intentionality) the mode of "publication" and the damages. Even if these hurdles are passed, there are also issues involving "privilege" to the person who makes the statement. In other words counsel above are correct that this analysis is very dependent on the facts of each case and there is no shame in being confused.

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