Although the First Amendment gives every American the right to free speech and free press, sometimes words can cause harm to another’s reputation or cause financial ruin to a company, which is also referred to as defamation. When this occurs, the company or individual has the right to file a libel claim against the source of that defamatory statement.
First, businesses need to know what the law states, whether the false statement did violate the law, and how to protect themselves from further reputation damage.
What is Defamation?
Defamation is defined as someone making false statements that could harm or damage the reputation of another person or business. It can be broken down into two types of defamation:
- Libel: The act of publishing the defamatory statement, such as a newspaper article or a message on social media.
- Slander: The act of speaking falsehood to another person or entity, such as one person spreading lies about someone else.
For a statement to be defamatory, it must cause either reputation or financial harm to an individual or business. The case needs to meet the following criteria to sue for libel.
The derogatory statement had been “published” – i.e., the account is communicated to someone other than whom the statement is about. The term publication does not necessarily mean it was printed in a public document; it could have been spoken to another individual or published in an online forum.
The statement not only contains falsehoods but specifically “identifies” a person or organization. It needs to be shown that it is “of and concerning” the person in question. However, if the subject’s identity has been either altered or omitted in the statement, that person may not have a libel claim.
Injury as a Result of Defamation
If the statement causes serious harm – such as an injury, shame, professional disgrace, or ridicule – to the individual or business’ reputations, this can be used as grounds for a lawsuit. It must be said that harm needs to be significant – a suit cannot be brought against an individual if the statement causes embarrassment or is just inaccurate.
Some examples of statements that cause harm include the following:
- Sexual misconduct allegations
- Reports associating someone with a disease
- Falsely accusing someone of illegal behavior
- Statements that hurt the livelihood of the individual
For the individual or organization to be considered “at fault” for the distribution of the statement, the claimant must be able to prove that the defendant either did something he/she should not have done or failed to do something he/she should have done. For example, a reporter writing a story about a business was unable to get a statement on sexual harassment charges and just covering the victim’s side of the story.
The Public Figure Standard
In the landmark case, New York Times Company v. L.B. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that freedom of speech protections restricted the ability of an American public official to sue for defamation. The decision states that for a public official or a person running for public office to claim defamation, the statement must meet all four criteria of libel plus cause “actual malice” – the defendant either knew the statement was false or disregarded the truthfulness of the account.
Protection Against Defamation
The best method to protect you or your business’s representation is to have a plan in place. But if someone does slander or defame your business, legal action may be required. For decades, Attorney Kerrie Campbell has been helping individuals and companies protect their reputation throughout the United States. Don’t hesitate much longer. Contact KCampbell-Law, PLLC, today for an evaluation of your claim.