The difference between libel and slander is that libel refers to any false, defamatory statement published in writing while slander is a false statement of defamation spoken orally. Both libel and slander fall under defamation laws that vary from state to state. Libel can consist of a magazine article, a news publication, a Facebook post, or even a personal letter written to anyone other than the defendant. Slander is similar in the way that any oral statement can be considered defamatory whether on television, in a speech, or a Facebook comment. While a Facebook comment could be considered libel since it is in writing, it could also be considered slander as it essentially operates as the commenter replying to a post in an oral manner.

What Needs to Be Proven in a Defamation Suit?

A defamation suit, for either libel or slander, must be able to prove five* things.

  1. A false statement was published as a fact.
    -False statements can consist of oral or written statements. For instance, this could be statements written in a newspaper, a letter, or said aloud in a meeting or on television.
  2. The statement, whether orally or in writing, was presented to a 3rd-party. (Anyone other than the person the statement concerns.)
    This 3rd-party could be a co-worker, a boss, a journalist, or even relatives.
    -This does not apply when making a statement directly to the person that stated concerns.
  3. The person who made the statement knows the information is false, or they recklessly disregarded the truth. (This is understood as questioning the validity of the statement but publishing it nonetheless.)
  4. The defamatory statement caused damages or personal injury.
    -Damages cover a large range of things from effects on mental health to loss of employment or wages.
  5. The statement was published unprivileged.
    Unprivileged means that the person who made the false statement was not granted the privilege to speak freely about someone else. -Privilege is granted in specific instances such as court testimonies in order to allow full expression of opinion in court. Most instances are in relation to court proceedings and lawmakers.

*Note: The standards of evidence differ between a private citizen and a public figure. Public figures, such as authors, government officials, actors, or television hosts. Public figures must be able to prove that the false statement that was made against them was made with malice. In other words, the statement was intended to damage their character, reputation, or career.

When is a Statement Not Considered Libel or Slander?

If a statement is made directly to the person it concerns, the statement is not considered defamatory, slander, or libel. This is because the statement, when made directly to the person it concerns, has no effect on their life outside of that interaction. For instance, two coworkers, Tom and Jerry, get into an argument. Jerry states, “Tom, you are a thief!” Whether this statement is true or false, it is only an opinion and since it was only expressed to Tom, the statement is not considered defamation.

Libel and slander can be avoided by taking care to note a statement is not a matter of fact. For instance, the news anchor reports that “Tom allegedly was involved with theft.” This is how news stations can publish material that could be considered defamation if stated directly. The difference between having a defamation case can be as simple as how a single phrase is articulated.

When is a Statement Considered Libel or Slander?

A publication, whether oral or written, is considered libel or slander when a false statement is published to a 3rd-party as a matter of fact. The matter of fact allows for someone to publish statements that take care to note that the statement is alleged. Since the statement was alleged, the statement does not qualify as a matter-of-fact and is dismissible. Furthermore, the statement must either be false or made with reckless negligence to the truth to qualify. For instance, Tom and Jerry are co-workers at a fast-food restaurant, but they have had a number of arguments and are often at odds with each other. One day, Tom goes to the boss and says that Jerry has been stealing money. Tom knows this is a false statement, but the boss does not. The following day, Jerry is fired. In this situation, Tom’s statement to the boss would be considered slander, and Jerry could sue Tom for damages such as lost wages, damage to reputation, or any mental effects the event could have caused.

Examples of Defamation Statements

There are particular statements that are automatic qualifiers for defamation. These include, but are not limited to:

  1. Falsely accusing someone of a crime
  2. Suggesting that someone has an undesirable disease, communicable illness, or a loathsome illness
  3. Stating someone is unfit to do their job, profession, or trade with intent to injure
  4. Suggesting that someone is impotent or has a want of chastity

What is Defamation?

Defamation is the act of reporting, stating, or propagating a false statement with the knowledge that the statement is false or with reckless disregard for the truth. There are two types of defamation in court that are referred to as per se or per quod. Per se refers to a defamatory statement where the damage is so obvious, the damage does not have to be proven. Per quod refers to a defamation case where the damages must be proven with evidence. In relation to libel and slander, these terms are written as libel per se, libel per quod, slander per se, and slander per quod.

Defamation and Public Figures

The state of California has a special requirement of proving malice for two categories of individuals. The first is public figures. Public figures can refer to author’s actors, government officials, large corporation owners who make public appearances, or celebrities. The second category is Limited public figures. Limited-purpose public figures refer to someone who normally would not qualify as a public figure, but they have put themselves or been drawn into a public issue. When classified as a limited-purpose public figure, the figure must also prove malice. Past California cases have named people such as a corporation president that became involved with a rezoning dispute over his and self-proclaimed experts on nice topics.

To prove malice, the plaintiff must prove that one, the statement is false, and two, the statement was made with knowledge of it being false or with reckless behavior where the validity was called into question.

How Much Can Be Made In a Libel or Slander Suit?

The amount awarded for a libel or slander suit is dependent upon the damages incurred. Damages refers to a large array of things that can relate to monetary value. This applies directly to things such as employment and lost wages. The damages can also extend to damage to one’s career if the defamation damages it, the plaintiff’s mental health, and the costs if they sought behavioral health options or damage to one’s reputation and the way others perceive them.

Statute of Limitations for Defamation Suits

The state of California has a one-year statute on filing a defamation case. This is written under civil procedure section 340(c), and it falls under the same category as personal injury claims. From the date, the defamatory statement is published, orally or in writing, the plaintiff will have one year to file a case in court.

Does the 1st Amendment Protect Against Defamation Suits?

The first amendment does not protect every statement from a defamation suit. Freedom is speech and freedom of the press are both guaranteed in the 1st amendment, but this right is not absolute. In other words, speech and press do have limits as to what is protected. If you have specific questions about what is protected, an attorney experienced in 1st amendment rights, such as those at Pride Legal, will be able to help advise. The only situation in which this freedom is absolute is when privilege is given by law, for lawmakers and congressional meetings, or in the judicial system such as testimonies in court.

Defenses Against Libel and Slander

Defenses against a libel or slander suit revolve around proving that one of the required elements is absent or does not apply. The following list shows some common defense examples:

  1. The statement about the plaintiff is true
  2. The statement was never actually made orally or in writing
  3. The statement was made under privilege
  4. The statement was made in reference to a public matter and is recognized as fair or a mere opinion
  5. The statement was never shared with a 3rd-party

Contact Pride Legal

If you or a loved one has been involved in a libel or slander suit, we invite you to contact us at Pride Legal for legal counseling or any further questions. To protect your rights, hire someone who understands them.