How To File A Defamation Lawsuit

Defamation is a false statement that causes harm to a person’s reputation. Although defamation claims have existed for hundreds of years, they have increased significantly with the advent of social media platforms. Although everyone wants to avoid a lawsuit, you may have no choice but to seek redress through the courts if someone is spreading false information about you. In this article, we will discuss the basic elements of a defamation lawsuit.

Note that this is a general guide and the exact laws will vary from state to state!

What is a Defamation Lawsuit?

A defamation lawsuit is a legal action against an individual for communicating false information about them to a third party. It causes defamation of character, professional standing, or public perception.

A defamation lawsuit can be categorized into two main types: slander and libel. Each type is distinguished by the form of communication used to convey the defamatory statements.

Slander refers to false verbal statements about an individual or entity made to a third party. Whereas, libel pertains to written or published false statements, such as newspaper articles, online publications, and social media posts.

Statute of Limitations

A defamation lawsuit (like all civil lawsuits) has a statute of limitations, meaning that any lawsuit must be filed within the specified time period. Otherwise, the plaintiff forfeits their right to bring any claim. Most states have a one or two year statute of limitations for defamation claims, beginning when the false statement was made.

Elements Required to Establish a Defamation Claim

Generally speaking the elements of a defamation claim that must be properly alleged in a complaint and ultimately proven will include:

1. False Statement

The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant made a false statement about them. The information must be factual rather than a mere expression of opinion.

2. Communication to a Third Party

The false statement must have been communicated to a third party, meaning it was shared, distributed, or made available to others beyond the plaintiff and the defendant.

3. Damages

The plaintiff must show how they have been harmed by the defamatory statements, either by showing economic damages (such as  a clear loss of business revenue) or non-economic damages (pain, suffering, humiliation, etc.)

4. Fault

In most states, different standards of fault apply depending on whether the plaintiff is considered a public or private figure. Private individuals must show that the defendant negligently made the false statement. At the same time, public figures must prove that the defendant acted with actual malice, meaning they knowingly made false statements or exhibited reckless disregard for the truth.

Defamation Per Se

Defamation per se refers to a category of false statements considered inherently harmful. The nature of these claims is presumed by law without requiring the plaintiff to prove actual damages. Some examples of defamation per se are as follows:

  • Accusing someone of being involved in a crime, such as theft or fraud, without any factual basis.
  • Initiating allegations about someone engaging in sexual assault
  • Falsely claiming that an individual has a contagious or loathsome disease that could harm their personal and professional reputation.
  • Statements of Professional Misconduct.

Defamation Per Quod 

Defamation per quod refers to invalid statements requiring additional context or explanation to understand their defamatory nature. Unlike defamation per se, these statements do not have an apparent harmful meaning on their face. Here are some examples of defamation per quod:

  • Spreading false information that a business is on the verge of bankruptcy without supporting evidence.
  • Accusing a teacher of being ineffective without providing specific examples of their teaching methods.
  • Spreading rumors that an individual has a history of fraud without providing specific incidents or evidence.
  • Saying that a restaurant received multiple health code violations without mentioning that the violations were promptly addressed and resolved.

Lawsuitsforms.org provides forms, guides, and templates for civil lawsuits

If you find yourself facing unexpected false statements that are causing damage to your reputation, but cannot afford an attorney, lawsuitforms.org can help. We offer forms, guides, and templates for filing a civil lawsuit in many states. These forms can be customized for any type of civil lawsuit.

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