Defamation is any written or spoken words which results in harming a person’s reputation, decreases respect or confidence held among right thinking members of society. Derogatory statements concerning an individual may result in hostility against him/her from members of section of the public or the general public. Defamation of character concerns the act of making false statements about a person which blemishes or tarnishes his/her reputation. Defamation of character can either be caused by words printed or by a broadcast of untrue statements by the media which is known as libel or it can be words orally spoken which is known as slander. A court generally awards a higher rate of compensation where the defamatory comment is in the form of libel since its permanent. Statements made regarding the commission of a crime, having a feared disease or being unable to perform one’s occupation are examples of defamation of character which can tarnish a person’s reputation.
There are always obstacles with defamation of character suits as there are hard to prove. Additionally, a party claiming defamation of character has to contend with the First Amendment of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression. The First Amendment ensures that each and every resident in the United States is permitted to speak one’s mind as an aspect of his/her individual’s liberty. Therefore, the court has become vigilant to ensure that an individual’s freedom of expression is not stifled by the imposition of sanctions. As a result even though a person can sue, it is an uphill battle to be successful in a defamation of character suit. If an individual were to succeed the court awards nominal damages because of the principle of freedom of speech which it seeks to preserve.
When suing for defamation there are four things which must be proven, which are as follows:
- That the person seeking relief must prove that there was a false statement made about them.
- That the statement was made to a third party rather than a private conversation between the accuse person and the victim.
- The statement was made with intent or the person who made the statement was negligent.
- That there was damage suffered as a result of the false statement.
All the four elements of defamation must be present for a case to be successful. Simply expressing a negative statement to a person directly is not defamation. Therefore, someone merely saying defamatory comments such having a sexually transmitted disease but not in the presence of others is not defamation of character. A section of the public or the general public at large must have knowledge of the defamatory comment which will result in a loss of reputation. After getting over the huddle of proving all the elements of the four prong test, an individual should always consider if a lawsuit is the best option. The commencement of a lawsuit would create greater publicity of the defamatory statement than it previously enjoyed. The publicity a case might receive coverage from the media with the constant repetition of the allegation which may cement the belief in the minds of the public that such an allegation is true. Additionally, the damages are generally nominal as previously stated therefore, it costly to expend time and money on a lawsuit which may not be recoverable by the injured party. As a result it is always important to try other methods before initiating a claim such as bringing issuing a cease and desist letter and demanding the person who made the false statements to make a public apology. But if there is going to be a suit it is important to seek representation quickly because the statute of limitations runs very quickly as in Arizona and Colorado which is only a year.
Suing for defamation of character is possible as a person has the right to be vindicated regarding any malicious rumors a person starts. However, the First Amendment protects an individual’s right to freedom of expression as such a person may not always be successful is his/her claim. Even though there is constitutional protection against freedom of expression being successful in a defamation of character case is not impossible. Once the person can prove the four elements needed to be successful then there is a chance for success in this type of case.