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Suing for Defamation: How Much Money Can You Win?

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

Frequently, when individuals ask what their injury cases are worth, they are surprised to learn that there is no way for an attorney to answer that question without having access to accurate fortune tellers. Since fortune telling is all a hoax (if it weren't, there'd be a lot more lottery winners), this means that really knowing what a case is worth is impossible until it's over.

Simply put, there are too many variables that go into a case's value. However, one rule of thumb that seems to hold true is that the larger the injury, the larger the award. In the context of defamation, this means that to get a big verdict, the victim must have suffered a major reputational harm, or lost significant income or revenues, as a result of the defamatory statement.

Judges and Juries Span the Gamut

When it comes to defamation injuries, a person that may not have suffered significant damages might not recover much at all. Like in petty trespassing cases, nominal damages may be appropriate. A judge or jury can award a victorious defamation plaintiff millions for really bad cases, or $1 in compensatory damages if they find that the injury was nominal. However, usually, nominal damages will not be awarded unless the plaintiff's case is incredibly petty, or punitive damages can also be awarded.

Generally, to prove financial damages in a defamation case, a person must be able to show a link between the defamatory statement and a loss of income, money, or reputation. For instance, if a real estate agent loses a client due to the defamatory statement, the agent may be able to sue the statement maker for the commission they lost. In the end, defamation awards and verdicts tend to award damages based on the amount of financial injury a person can prove, as well as the egregiousness of the defamation.

As Much As You Can Prove

When it comes down to what a case is worth, it will always depend on how much financial and non-financial damages a person can prove. Specific and actual financial losses attributed to the defamation, such as from lost clients, or reduced revenues, are more likely to be recovered as these are easier to document. Items like goodwill or reputation can be difficult to value in terms of dollars and cents. For example, if a company spent a lot of money to gain the goodwill they had before the defamation, the resulting injury could be worth more than if the company had spent nothing to gain the goodwill.

Also, in some circumstances, punitive damages will be available to victims of defamation. In these cases, the amount of damages will depend largely on the wealth of the defendant.

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