We’ve all had rumors started about us…and it’s rarely the good ones that catch on and spread like wild fire! While the author of this quote couldn’t be found, the sentiment is certainly appreciated:
“I love rumors. I always find out amazing things about myself I never knew.”
Humor is certainly one way to deal with hearing rumors and lies about our lives. But there are times when the rumors begin to damage you and your livelihood. When is it appropriate to sue for damages from rumors? When do you have a case that would stand up in court?
WHAT IS DEFAMATION?
Defamation is defined in Oxford Dictionaries as ‘the action of damaging the good reputation of someone”. Defamation of character is either in the form of libel or slander, with libel being defamation in writing and slander being oral. The defamation must have been heard by a third party and could have been conveyed through broadcast, in a speech, on a sign, in a conversation, through email, or on social media sites.
Defamation can escalate to a lawsuit if the slander or libel is false, but presented as truth, and if it caused damages. If the statement was stated as an opinion, it is difficult to prove that it was intentionally false, even if it caused damages. In most cases, the damages need to be proven. With some libel and/or slander, the damages caused do not have to be proven; these circumstances include stating that the person was guilty of a crime, was unfit to run a business, etc., when the statements were knowingly untrue.
WHAT TO DO?
Having a lawyer to help prove your legal malpractice lawsuit case is a good idea as it is difficult to prove in a court setting. There is evidence to collect and an attorney can help you to determine which pieces are appropriate. In addition, if you do not have the proof necessary, you can end up in trouble as your suit is essentially calling the accused a liar.
Lastly, an attorney can help you to see what you would stand to gain from a court if you win. If you are looking more toward justice being served, your reputation being protected, and money is not the top motivation, this aspect may not be as important. However, if funds are a little tighter, it may be worthwhile to determine if the efforts are worth the reward.
An attorney can also help to determine if the defaming statement falls under either of the protected categories – qualified or absolute privilege. Absolute privilege statements are legal ones where witnesses or officials were asked to give statements without having to worry about defamation consequences. Qualified privilege are statements made by people who have the right to make a statement, such as a former employer giving statements to a potential employer.
The type of evidence necessary will vary. If the defamation is in the form of slander, witness statements from those present are necessary. If in writing, the proof is certainly more straightforward. Proving how these statements have harmed you or your business is also necessary. This can include proving you’ve lost worked or were harassed or ignored by others after the statement. If you already have a negative reputation and there are many negative opinions floating around about you, it will be more difficult to prove that the one statement made is the culprit.
If you have a strong case, a settlement out of court between you and the other party is another potential outcome, allowing both parties to avoid further litigation costs.