Defamation, Libel and Slander
By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by Garrett Monteagudo, Esq. | Last reviewed January 20, 2023
This article has been written and reviewed for legal accuracy, clarity, and style by FindLaw’s team of legal writers and attorneys and in accordance with our editorial standards.
The last updated date refers to the last time this article was reviewed by FindLaw or one of our contributing authors. We make every effort to keep our articles updated. For information regarding a specific legal issue affecting you, please contact an attorney in your area.
Not all torts result in bodily harm. Some cause harm to a person's reputation instead.
Defamation is the general tort that encompasses statements that damage a person's reputation. There are different forms of defamation, including libel and slander.
The difference between libel and slander is simply whether the statements are written or spoken. If they are written, they are considered libel. If they are spoken, they are considered slander. If a person suffers injury to their reputation as a result of another person's statements, they can sue under the theory of defamation.
Continue reading for an overview of libel and slander and how they can relate to defamation.
The Basics of Defamation Law
The government can't punish a person for defamation because it's not a criminal offense. Defamation is a tort, however. A person can sue someone if they suffer injury because of that person's defamatory statements. Defamation can be a tricky area of the law because there is a fine line between freedom of speech and the right of a person to protect their reputation.
Defamatory statements fall into two categories:
- Libel, when it's written, and
- Slander, when it's spoken.
Regardless of which form defamatory statements take, a person must usually show the following to be successful in a defamation lawsuit:
- A person made a statement,
- The statement was published,
- The statement caused injury,
- The statement was false, and
- The statement didn't fall into a privileged category.
These are the general elements of defamation. However, it's important to check exactly what constitutes defamation in your state.
Defenses to Defamation
Whether it's libel or slander, there are a variety of defenses available to a defendant in a defamation case. One absolute defense to defamation is consent. If the plaintiff consented to the publication of defamatory information about them, the consent is a complete defense.
Another defense to libel or slander is truth. Traditionally, it was presumed that a statement was false once the plaintiff proved it was defamatory. Under modern law, if a plaintiff is a public figure or official, they must prove the statement is false in order to recover damages. Some states have extended this requirement to any plaintiff. If proving falsity is not a requirement, truth can be an affirmative defense in a defamation case.
Finally, privilege can also serve as a defense in a defamation case. There are absolute and conditional privileges. Absolute privilege means that the nature of the statement or the intent of the person making the statement doesn't matter. Regardless of this, the privilege always applies.
Examples of circumstances where there is absolute privilege are
- Judicial and legislative proceedings
- Publications required by law
- Some executive statements and publications
- Publications between spouses
Conditional privilege, on the other hand, depends on the circumstance under which the statement was made. For example, statements made for the protection of the publisher's interests or to ensure a family member's well-being can be protected by conditional privilege. To succeed in a conditional privilege defense, the defendant must prove that they meet the conditions established for the privilege.
Hiring a Lawyer
If you or someone close to you has been the victim of defamatory statements, you may want to contact a local personal injury attorney. It's important to remember that each state has its own statute of limitations for filing a defamation action. For this reason, and others as well, it's in your best interest to contact an attorney sooner rather than later.
Please browse the links below for additional information on defamation, libel, and slander.
Learn About Defamation, Libel and Slander
Defamation, Libel and Slander Articles
Time Limits to File a Defamation Lawsuit: State Statutes of Limitation
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.