Someone who is renting our house has begun speaking badly about myself and my husband and I was curious as to the liability of defamation / slander. They refer to our character, the house that they wish to lease then own; yet say hurtful things. I do not want to threaten a lawsuit to shut them up if it is not possible.
Defamation is making false statements about another person that puts them in a bad light, such as statements that a person is thief, uses drugs, is a prostitute, etc. There are certain things that are so defamatory that the damage to a person's reputation does not have to be proved. It is inferred. This is called "defamation per-se." Other untrue statements that are derogatory and cause damage to one's reputation must be proven in a court of law. The fact that you are upset or got your feelings hurt will not prove damage to your reputation in the community. You may want to just ignore these tenants' statements.
DEFAMATION AS A TORT: LIBEL VS. SLANDER
Defamation is generally defined as the invasion of a person's interest in his or her reputation and good name. Prosser & Keeton on Torts § 111, at 771 (5th ed. 1984 & Supp. 1988). Defamation claims are divided into two categories depending on how the defamatory statement was communicated: libel for written communications and slander for oral communications.
Elements of Defamation cause of action in Texas:
To prove a cause of action for defamation, a plaintiff must prove that (1) the defendant published a statement of fact, (2) the statement was defamatory, (3) the statement was false, (4) the defendant acted negligently in publishing the false and defamatory statement, and (5) the plaintiff suffered damages as a result. See Brown v. Swett & Crawford of Tex., Inc., 178 S.W.3d 373, 382 (Tex. App.-Houston [1 Dist.] 2005, no pet.) (citing WFAA-TV, Inc. v. McLemore, 978 S.W.2d 568, 571 (Tex. 1998)); see also Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 73.001 (Vernon 2005).
TEXAS SUPREME COURT CASES RELEVANT TO DEFAMATION CLAIMS
Chrysler Ins. Co., v. Greenspoint Dodge of Houston, Inc., No. 08-0780 (Tex. Oct. 30, 2009)(per curiam) (insurance coverage dispute, known-falsity exclusion to defamation liability coverage based on knowledge of vice-principals; knowledge imputed on insured, thus exclusion applies, warranting take-nothing judgment)
RECENT TEXAS DEFAMATION CASES FROM TEXAS COURTS OF APPEALS |
LIBEL CASE LAW
Draker v. Schreiber, No. 04-07-00692-CV (Tex.App.- San Antonio, Aug. 13, 2008, no. pet. h.) ( As the gravamen of Draker’s complaint was one of defamation, the trial court did not err in dismissing teacher's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress)(summary judgment for defendant students in Internet libel case affirmed)
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I see this type of question a lot, so I submitted a "primer" on defamation claims that you are free to check out at http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/a-primer-on-defamation-claims Mr. Madison has provided a lot more specific information relevant to the law in your state.
The facts presented in your post are a little sparse, so it is unclear if you have sustained any economic (money) losses as a result of the hurtful things being said, and absent damages, there may not be much to pursue via a lawsuit. But, you may still want to consult with a lawyer in your area to address the issue, as you may be able to get the Court to issue some type of restraining order preventing further harassment.
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