Being sued for defamation can be a costly and anxiety-inducing experience. It is essential to understand a bit about what defamation (also referred to sometimes as libel or slander) is and importantly what some of the common defenses and privileges to such a claim are. However, there is no substitute to hiring an attorney skilled and experienced in the area of defamation defense law.
What is Defamation?
Defamation is a false statement made to others that harms a person’s reputation in the community. Defamation law is based on the premise that a person’s good reputation has value and one who harms that good reputation by making false statements should be made to pay. In Illinois, the plaintiff (the person or business claiming to have been defamed) who makes a claim of defamation generally has the burden of proof (the obligation to put forward evidence).
A defamation claim generally has three elements that the plaintiff the must prove in order to recover damages: (1) a false statement; (2) made to a third party (also known as publication); (3) that harms the plaintiff’s reputation. A plaintiff who proves a defamation claim can recover monetary damages and even an injunction in some cases. Fortunately, there are several common defenses and privileges to a charge of defamation that you can assert to avoid having a defamation judgment entered against you.
Defamation vs. Libel and Slander?
Sometimes you will hear defamation referred to as libel or slander (or that a defendant libeled or slandered the plaintiff). Libel and slander are simply different forms of defamation. Libel is defaming someone in writing. Slander is defaming someone orally. In the past, courts dealt with libel and slander claims differently, and each claim had different elements that needed to be proved along with different defenses. Illinois courts have long since discarded the distinctions between the claims and now simply refer to both types of claims as defamation.
Common Defenses and Privileges to a Charge of Defamation
Truth is an absolute defense to a charge of defamation. An essential element of a defamation claim is that the allegedly defamatory statement was false. It is not enough simply to prove that the statement damaged the plaintiff’s reputation. The statement must also be false. It is important to note that the statement need not be 100% true in every single detail for this defense to apply. A statement need only be “substantially true” for the defense to apply. This means that the allegedly damaging part of the statement must be true even if some of the minor, peripheral details were not accurate.
In practice, if you are going to say something negative about a business or individual, you should only do so if such a statement is backed up by verifiable evidence. Continue reading