Written by attorney Steve C. Vondran

Understanding the top defenses to Defamation, Libel or Slander accusations

The internet can be a savage place. Yes, it is the home for free speech and the first amendment (in some instances), but it can also be where companies and individuals are defamed by other persons or companies on such sites such as Better Business Bureau, Yelp, Google Reviews, Ripoff Report, Twitter, Facebook and other sites that allow user REVIEWS! This video talks about the top 15 defenses (this is not an exclusive list) when you or your business is charged with Libel (written defamation) or Slander (oral defamation).

Some of the top defenses are:

  1. Truth is a defense to defamation (must be a "false statement")
  2. Sincerely held opinions not framed as defamation are protected
  3. Lawyers have "litigation privilege" to defame (subject to limited exceptions)
  4. Statements made in the political or judicial process
  5. Plaintiff is not identifiable as the target of the defamatory statement (the defamation must be "of and concerning" the Plaintiff).

Watch the video to see the rest.

It is important to understand that one of the key challenges to bringing a defamation case is proving damages to your reputation. A Plaintiff should be prepared to make this showing. However, there are some cases where damages are presumed (the "per se" defamation cases). This can include where false statements are made about a Plaintiff concerning:

  1. Plaintiff has a loathsome disease
  2. Plaintiff committed a crime or is a criminal
  3. Plaintiff (usually a woman) is unchaste (a slut for example)
  4. False, defamatory and disparaging comments about a person in their trade, business or profession.

There are also higher "hurdles" to recovery when a "public figure" or "public official" and/or a "media defendant" are at issue. This usually invokes the New York Times v. Sullivan rule which notes:

"Under such a rule, would-be critics of official conduct may be deterred from voicing their criticism, even though it is believed to be true and even though it is, in fact, true, because of doubt whether it can be proved in court or fear of the expense of having to do so. They tend to make only statements which "steer far wider of the unlawful zone." Speiser v. Randall, supra, 357 U.S. at 357 U. S. 526. The rule thus dampens the vigor and limits the variety of public debate. It is inconsistent with the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The constitutional guarantees require, we think, a federal rule that prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves that the statement was made with "actual malice" -- that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.

Additional resources provided by the author

Here are a few more first amendment resources for you that may help you understand this legal issue.

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