What Kind of Lawyer Do I Need For a Defamation Case?

by Rachel Elle
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Remember the old adage, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?" Well, that's not always the case. Words, whether written or spoken, can cause lasting harm, especially when false statements are made that ruin reputations and cause financial, physical or mental consequences — serious impacts that may change the course of an individual's life. In these cases, defamation of character may apply.

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These civil cases can result in punitive and compensatory damages, so understanding how defamation cases work and how to find the right lawyers to assist in filing them is key.

What Is Defamation?

Defamation refers to any kind of damage to a person's reputation based on a false fact spread through malice or negligence. This kind of reputation harm can vary but usually needs to have notable effects.

There are two primary forms of defamation that can result in reputation damage: slander and libel. Slander applies to spoken words, while libel applies to printed information.

If, for example, a TV news host reports that a prominent local politician was part of an extortion ring — a claim that's not true — and he subsequently loses his elected seat, this could be slander. If a newspaper reporter writes the same thing, it would be libel. And, because this politician experienced tangible consequences — the loss of a political position and the accompanying income due to a tarnished reputation — there could be a good legal case made for defamation.

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What Kind of Case Is a Defamation Case?

A defamation case is a civil case intended to hold someone accountable when their words caused damage to a reputation that resulted in real and provable consequences.

Part of the reason these cases are fairly uncommon is due to the high burden of proof required — and this requirement is solely put on the plaintiff. To successfully bring a defamation case to court and have a chance of winning, plaintiffs need to prove that:

  • A false statement was definitively made.
  • The statement was heard by third parties and was interpreted as truth.
  • The information was spread through negligence, improper due diligence or malice — an intentional action intended to cause harm and not an honest mistake.
  • Verifiable harm, whether financial, professional, physical, mental or emotional, occurred based on the nature of the defamation.

This is often not an easy bar to clear, but when the evidence needed to move forward is present, it can be an excellent way to clean up the damage caused by slander or libel.

Consequences in a successful defamation case are usually compensatory, meaning they're intended to help the victim make up for financial losses, treat any healthcare needs and do whatever work is needed to restore a reputation. In very serious cases, punitive damages may also be awarded, but it's uncommon.

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What Kind of Lawyer Do You Need for a Defamation Case?

To file a defamation case, choosing a lawyer experienced in this space is important. Defamation law is a very particular area of practice, and because these cases are so challenging to prove, a deft legal hand can be the difference between success and failure.

When choosing a lawyer, be sure to pick someone who has a track record of success in defamation cases, ideally from a law firm that specializes in this area. A good defamation lawyer can help assess damages, pull together proof to show the court and spin a compelling case as to why damages are required under the given circumstances.

Choosing a lawyer with little to no experience with defamation cases can mean filing a lawsuit too quickly before a solid case can be built or failing to meet the burden of proof. Should a defamation lawsuit fail, this may actually cause further harm to a reputation, as it effectively demonstrates that there wasn't enough evidence to prove a damaging claim was false.

Because the bar for proving defamation is very high, these cases are hard to win. However, the best way to enhance your chances of success is to hire a qualified lawyer experienced in making cases and securing wins for clients.

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