Recently my neighborhood watch sent out an email to my neighbors, describing my car and asking them to call the police if seen in my neighborhhod. The email went on to say that a video captured some illegal activities by the driver and occupants of my car. He described the occupants as 'up to no good'. When I questioned them and demanded to see the video, they refused. I insisted that he send out another email asking the neighbors to 'NOT' call the police. Do I have a case?
Can you sue? Yes. Will you be successful, probably not. You really have no monetary damages.
The First Amendment to the Constitution provides a broad right of freedom of speech. However, if a false statement has been made about you, you may have wondered if you could sue for defamation.
Generally, defamation consists of: (1) a false statement of fact about another; (2) an unprivileged publication of that statement to a third party; (3) some degree of fault, depending on the type of case; and (4) some harm or damage. Libel is defamation by the printed word and slander is defamation by the spoken word.
There are a number of defenses available in a defamation action. Of course, if a statement is true, there can be no action for defamation. Truth is a complete defense. Additionally, if the statement is an expression of an opinion as opposed to a statement of fact, there can be no action for defamation. We do not impose liability in this country for expressions of opinion. However, whether a statement will be deemed to be an expression of opinion as opposed to a statement of fact is not always an easy question to answer.
If you think you have been defamed you must make a demand for retraction before a lawsuit can be filed. If the outlet publishes a retraction, you can still file suit, but your damages may be limited. Unless the defendant acted with malice, bad faith or reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of the story, you can only recover your actual damages. No punitive damages can be assessed in the absence of these elements.
Zonald Spinks, Esq. Phone: (813) 413-5352 Fax: (813) 658-5893 Twitter: @ZonaldLaw Skype: Zonaldlaw Disclaimer: legal information is not the same as legal advice -- the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a lawyer if you want professional assurance that this information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation. This information is not intended as legal advice for an individual situation, it is only provided as information.
I have a slightly different response. Can you sue, yes. I agree you don't seem to have actual damages. However, accusation of a crime is considered defamation PER SE. This means you don't have to prove actual damages to get damages for "emotional anguish" or to seek "punitive damages". Also, with PER SE, there is an inference that the statement was made with ill will. You should speak with an attorney who may be able to resolve this with the threat of a lawsuit.
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