What is a Defamation Lawsuit?
A defamation lawsuit is a case filed against someone who made false, harmful statements about the plaintiff. Defamation is a printed or spoken statement that is provably false, and that causes harm and damage to someone’s reputation. To be defamation, the statement must be more than an opinion and communicated to a third party.
The main purpose of a defamation lawsuit is to recover monetary damages. A defamatory statement damages your reputation and can cost you money in work and professional situations and also non-economic damages from emotional suffering.
Should I File a Defamation Lawsuit?
It can be difficult to know if you have a case for a defamation lawsuit. If you do have a strong case, it may be worthwhile to sue those responsible. Doing so can help you recover damages to cover the expenses of reputation damage. For example, if you lost a job because of the defamatory statement, damages replace lost wages. A successful lawsuit can also help you repair your damaged reputation.
The best way to determine if you have a case for defamation is to work with an experienced lawyer. They can evaluate your situation and advise you on a lawsuit. In general, you may want to file a defamation lawsuit if:
- Someone printed false and damaging information about you in actual print or online.
- Someone said something about you to others that was false and damaging.
- Your personal or professional reputation has suffered because of the defamatory statement.
- That damage has cost you money, for instance, in lost business.
- The false statement was harmful ‘per se,’ meaning it involved your professional standing, having a disease, or a crime of moral turpitude.
Who Can I Sue in a Defamation Lawsuit?
A defamation lawsuit is against the individual or group of people who made a false, damaging statement. You must be able to prove certain things about the person or organization you are suing:
- That they made a provably false statement about you
- That they communicated that statement to a third party, in writing, online, or as a spoken statement
- That the false statement harmed your reputation and resulted in damages
- That the person or group was either negligent in making the statement or did it with intentional malice
Certain people cannot be used for defamation in specific situations. They are said to have privileges. Your lawyer can help you determine if the possible defendant has privileges or not.
What Are the Steps in a Defamation Lawsuit?
The first thing you must do to file a successful defamation lawsuit is find the right lawyer. Choose someone with experience negotiating, litigating, and winning damages for clients in defamation cases. These cases are different from other kinds of personal injury lawsuits and require special expertise.
Once you have the right lawyer leading your defamation lawsuit, it will proceed through these steps:
- Filing the complaint.
After a lawyer has determined you have a solid case for defamation, they will officially begin the suit by filing a complaint. They notify the defendant and present your allegations of defamation.
- Investigation and discovery.
Legal teams on both sides then investigate the incident to find evidence for negligence, a false statement, and reputational harm. Each side can share information and hold depositions during the discovery period.
- Negotiating a settlement.
If possible, your lawyer will negotiate a settlement on your behalf. This is much faster than going to trial, but it does not always result in adequate damages.
- Going to trial.
You may opt to take the defendants to court if they do not settle or do not offer a fair amount of compensation. Each side presents evidence and witness or expert testimony to a jury. The jury decides if the defendants owe you damages, and if so the amount.
If you win the trial, the defendants may choose to appeal. They will send the case to a higher court where a judge may overturn the jury verdict. Even if the appeal fails, you face delays in getting compensation.
What Can I Recover in Damages from a Lawsuit?
Damages you may recover in a defamation lawsuit depend on multiple factors. Your lawyer can provide a reasonable estimate and will find costs you had not considered to maximize damages:
- Economic damages. Reputational harm is measured in things like lost business opportunities, being fired from a job, or being unable to get a job. Even benefits from a lost job, such as health insurance, can be counted as economic damages.
- Non-economic damages. The harm caused by defamatory statements is also abstract. For instance, you may lose a spouse over a lie told about you. A false statement about your reputation can cause emotional distress. You can be compensated for these things.
Is There a Time Limit for Filing a Defamation Lawsuit?
Yes, there is a time limit, so be sure you talk to a lawyer as soon as you realize you have been defamed. The statute of limitations usually begins running when the statement is made or published. It varies by state from a few years to just one year. Exceptions may be made, for instance, if you could not have immediately discovered the statement but only heard about it after publication.
Defamation lawsuits help victims of slander and libel recover necessary damages for reputational harm. If you think you have a reason to file for defamation, talk to an experienced lawyer for guidance.