Defamation can be a serious offense. When a person's reputation is damaged, it can cause him or her serious economic harm and emotional distress. Professionals whose livelihoods depend on their reputations for good character, integrity, or trustworthiness, can lose their jobs, their careers, or their opportunities to contract with others due to mere allegations of misconduct or bad character. Often, their employers, their business partners, their clients, their patients, licensing agencies, or the administrative agencies that regulate them cannot afford to wait until thorough investigations are completed before taking precautionary and economically harmful actions in response to allegations that are only possibly true.
Public figures, such as celebrities, politicians, some high-ranking public employees, and community or business leaders are often victims of defamation. Unfortunately, due to their statuses as well-known public figures, they cannot hold people accountable for defaming them as easily as private persons can. The standards for proving that a public figure has been defamed are higher than the standards for proving a private person has been defamed. This article provides information about defamation involving private persons.
Colorado Defamation Law
When someone knowingly or recklessly makes a false statement to others about a private person, the statement harms the private person's reputation, and the private person suffers economic or emotional damages as a result, an act of defamation has occurred. Defamatory statements can be slanderous (oral statements) or libelous (written or printed statements, including emails). Each libelous or slanderous statement is a separate act of defamation.
There are defenses to claims of defamation. For example, some public employees may defame private persons if they do so unintentionally and without malice. Under such circumstances, public employees have qualified immunity. This qualified immunity would protect a police officer from being held liable for defamation if the officer, due to a mistake of identity or a misinterpretation of the circumstances, stated that someone had just committed a crime when, in fact, the person had not committed a crime. Additionally, people who make statements made during judicial proceedings are absolutely immune from claims of defamation.
Defamation per se is different from the defamation claim. A false statement alleging a private person committed a crime, such as fraud or theft, would be defamation per se. A false statement that impeached or discredited a private person among his or her business associates or in his or her profession would also be defamation per se. In claims involving defamation per se, damages are presumed. So if a defamation per se claim were proved, the victim would only need to prove the amount of the damages, not that there were damages.
Until September 2012, in Colorado, acts of libel may also be prosecuted as felonies. Moreover, those who violate Colorado criminal statutes could be found negligent per se in civil lawsuits. A person who knowingly publishes or disseminates a false statement tending to impeach the honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation of a Colorado citizen and thereby exposes him or her to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule, commits criminal libel. See C.R.S. 18-13-105(1). When charged with criminal libel, the burden is on the defendant to prove that the statement he or she made was substantially true when published.
Libel can come in the form of typed letters, handwritten letters, pictures, videos, or emails. Internet libel occurs when someone sends an email containing defamatory statements, sets up a website containing defamatory statements, writes a blog post containing libelous statements, or leaves a comment containing libelous statements.
What are your options if you have been defamed in Colorado?
If you have been defamed, libeled or slandered, and you have suffered substantial economic or emotional harm as a result, you may want to consult an attorney who has experience prosecuting defamation cases. Victims of defamation usually have several options. A defamation attorney can explain your options to you and advise you. For example, an attorney could write a cease and desist letter or a retraction order letter for you. The cease and desist letter could explain the legal consequences of defamatory actions and order those who have defamed you to stop immediately. A retraction order letter could order people who have defamed you to publicly retract their statements.
A defamation attorney could also help you evaluate whether you have suffered enough economic or emotional damage to warrant filing a lawsuit alleging the claim of defamation or defamation per se. Claims such as intentional infliction of emotional distress, interference with contract or business expectancy, misrepresentation, negligence per se, or aiding and abetting may often be combined with defamation or defamation per se claims. A defamation attorney could explain whether those claims apply to your case.
Sign up to receive a 3-part series of useful information and advice about personal injury law.