Slander Lawsuit Guide 2024 – Forbes Advisor – Forbes

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A slander lawsuit allows you to obtain compensation when your reputation is damaged due to defamation. This type of legal claim enables you to recover monetary payments for losses caused when someone made a false statement of fact about you verbally, rather than in writing.

This guide will explain what a slander lawsuit is, what you must prove to pursue a claim, and what types of compensation could be available to you if you successfully make your case.

What is a Slander Lawsuit?

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A slander lawsuit is a lawsuit you can file after someone defames you. Defamation occurs when someone makes a false statement of fact to a third party and causes you harm as a result. Defamation is a tort, which means it is a civil wrong, so you can file suit to obtain monetary damages from the person who committed it.

The purpose of a civil lawsuit is typically to obtain monetary compensation to make you whole for the damage done. If you win and the defendant loses their case, you receive payment. The defendant does not end up going to jail or being left with a criminal record.

Libel vs. Slander

There are two types of defamation: libel and slander. The difference between the two is how the false statement is made. If someone makes a false statement verbally instead of in writing, you can file a slander lawsuit to recover compensation for economic harm, pain and suffering, and any medical bills.

Traditionally, the distinction between libel and slander was clear. Any written false statements could give rise to libel claims and any claims that were made verbally only would give rise to a slander claim. Technology has eroded some distinctions, and courts have had to address whether false statements made on digital and recorded speech would be considered slander or libel.

For example, a statement made in a podcast could be considered an oral statement, in which case a defamatory claim made in this format would be considered slander. Podcasts could also be considered to be recordings of a written statement, which could mean that a libel claim is more appropriate.

Although courts have split on some of these questions, statements that are widely distributed and preserved permanently are more likely to be viewed as libel while statements made to smaller audiences that are fleeting are more likely to be viewed as slander.

When Can You Sue Someone for Slander?

You can sue someone for slander in the following situations:

  • A potential defendant made a false statement of fact verbally that caused you harm
  • You have evidence to prove the slander occurred and damaged you
  • The time limit for filing a lawsuit has not passed

You will want to make sure you actually have a cause of action before moving forward. If you don’t, the defendant could claim you have filed a frivolous lawsuit and you could be responsible for their legal fees.

It’s also important to make sure the defendant actually has the financial resources to compensate you or is covered by an insurance policy that would pay out your damages. It doesn’t do you much good to win a lawsuit if the defendant has no money or financial resources to pay the judgment.

You should also consider whether there are better alternatives to suing.  In many cases, negotiating an out-of-court settlement is better for both parties. You can settle if you are able to come to an agreement on appropriate compensation. Before you settle, though, be aware that accepting a settlement offer means giving up a right to future claims. And the defendant may not necessarily have to admit fault.

How to File a Slander Lawsuit

Knowing what to do first when you want to file a defamation lawsuit can be challenging. Here is a step-by-step slander lawsuit guide:

  1. Determine whether you have a valid case. You must prove that the false statement was communicated to at least one other individual and that it harmed your reputation.
  2. Gather documentation and proof. Keep all evidence of the defamatory statement and your damages. Proof of your slander lawsuit could be eyewitness statements, social media posts, videos, and documents showing your financial losses, such as loss of income or business.
  3. Assess your damages. Quantify the harm you suffered due to the slanderous statement, such as the impact on your business, employment and private life. An attorney can help assess slander’s financial and emotional consequences on your life and career.
  4. Consult an attorney. A lawyer can review your evidence and damages, determine the merits of your case and move forward with filing a lawsuit.
  5. File the lawsuit in court. Ask your attorney to draft a complaint letter outlining the details of your claim and the damages you seek. They can then arrange to serve the defendant, complete the required court documents and file your case.
  6. Settlement negotiations. If both you and the defendant agree on a settlement amount, your claim can be resolved with an out-of-court settlement. This is generally faster and cheaper than going through the courts.
  7. Trial. If negotiations to resolve the dispute fail, your case could move to trial. In a civil trial, a judge or jury will decide the outcome of your slander lawsuit and the compensation that’s due to you.

What Do You Have to Prove in a Slander Lawsuit?

When you file a slander lawsuit, you must file court paperwork. The defendant is notified of the lawsuit and given the chance to respond. If the case does not get resolved through an out-of-court settlement, you go to trial and have the burden of proving slander occurred. Typically, you have to prove this by a preponderance of the evidence, showing that more likely than not, the events unfolded as you described.

In order to win a slander lawsuit, you have the burden of proving the following:

  • That the defendant made a false statement of fact to at least one other person
  • That the defendant was either negligent in determining the truth of the statement (if you are a private figure) or acted with absolute malice (if you are a public figure)
  • That the statement was not privileged (which means protected by law, such as statements made between spouses or during judicial proceedings)
  • That you experienced damage as a result of the false statement of fact

Private figures have not pursued fame and notoriety, so information about them is not necessarily a matter of public interest. As a result, you can more easily win a slander lawsuit as a private figure. You only have to show the defendant was negligent in determining if the statement was true. If a reasonable person would have been more careful about assessing the truth, the defendant can be held responsible for damages.

In slander cases involving public figures, it can be much tougher to win a slander lawsuit because of the “absolute malice” standard. Under this legal rule, you would have to show the defendant knew the statement was not true, or acted with reckless disregard for the truth in order to win your case.

Slander Per Se

In most slander cases, you must show the false statement was actually harmful to your reputation.

However, some statements are so obviously damaging that you can prove harm simply by showing the defendant falsely made the claim. This is called slander per se. Per se means the statement speaks for itself. Merely showing it was uttered is sufficient.

Some common examples of statements that would be classified as slander per se include the following:

  • Saying you committed a crime
  • Saying you committed adultery or sexual misconduct
  • Saying you engaged in professional misconduct

If you can show the defendant falsely spoke these words about you to a third party, this could be enough to win your slander lawsuit. Since slander per se is considered inherently damaging to a person’s reputation, a plaintiff may recover compensation without having to prove actual damages, according to the Legal Information Institute (LII).

Examples of Slander

Some examples of slander include:

  • Someone telling a current or potential employer a damaging lie about your professional ethics either in person or over the phone
  • Someone coming to a town hall meeting or block party, standing up and speaking, and falsely claiming you committed a crime
  • Someone telling members of your church that you are cheating on your spouse with an underaged partner

In each of these examples, a statement is made orally that affects your reputation and causes you harm.

Slander Defenses

There are two major defenses to slander that defendants could raise to avoid liability in a slander lawsuit. They include:

  • Truth: If the defendant shows the statement they made was true, you cannot win a slander lawsuit. Truth is an absolute defense to slander.
  • Opinion: If a defendant shows the statement was not one of fact, but one of opinion, you can’t recover compensation for damages. For example, if you’re a chef and a customer falsely tells others in your restaurant that you served spoiled food, this is a false assertion of fact that could give rise to a slander claim. But if someone tells other patrons in your restaurant that they believe your food had a bad taste, this is an opinion and you can’t successfully sue for slander because of it.

Compensation for Slander

If you can prove you were slandered, you can obtain compensation for your damages in a slander lawsuit. This can include payment for the following:

  • Lost earnings and any reduction in future earnings that occurs due to the damage to your reputation
  • Lost business and economic opportunities due to reputational damage
  • Pain and suffering resulting from the false claims and the resulting consequences
  • Medical expenses if you sought therapy or other treatment as a result of the slander

Punitive damages are available when the defendant acted maliciously. Even if you suffered no economic damages, the court can award nominal damages simply because slander occurred.

How Long Do You Have to File a Slander Lawsuit?

You must file a slander lawsuit within the time period allowed for defamation claims. In most states, you will have to file your slander lawsuit within one to three years from the time the slander first occurred, or within one to three years from the time you first discovered the slander or should have discovered it.

An experienced defamation attorney can help you to determine if you were slandered and if you should file a slander lawsuit. If you pursue a case, your attorney can help you gather the evidence you need to recover the compensation you deserve.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is it worth suing for slander?

Suing for slander can be worthwhile if you can successfully prove a defendant spoke falsely about you and you were harmed. If you can make your case, a slander lawsuit allows you to recover compensation for damages you experienced including lost business opportunities, pain and suffering, and medical expenses.

Is it hard to win a slander lawsuit?

It can be difficult to win a slander lawsuit because you must prove you were damaged by a spoken statement. Proving injury can be more difficult than in a libel claim, which is the type of lawsuit you would file if you were falsely defamed in writing. That’s because the writing itself serves as evidence of harm in a libel case but there is no writing in a slander case.

What qualifies as slander?

Slander refers to a false statement of fact made orally to at least one third party. To successfully win a slander lawsuit, you would need to show that a defendant acted negligently in determining the truth of the statement and that you were harmed. If you are a public figure, you must demonstrate more than mere negligence. You must show the defendant acted with actual malice, which means the defendant intentionally made a false statement or was unreasonably careless in determining if the statement was true.

Should you hire a lawyer to sue someone for slander?

It is a good idea to hire a defamation lawyer to sue someone for slander. Your attorney can assist you in negotiating a settlement to try to avoid court proceedings. Your lawyer can also help you to gather evidence, determine when to file a lawsuit, ensure you’re acting within the statute of limitations and help you to make a strong case for compensation.

What Evidence Do You Need for Slander?

Proving a slander lawsuit can be tough, as there is typically no written evidence. According to the LLI, another person merely stating their opinion about you does not qualify as slander, and the lines can get blurred between an opinion and a fact. However, specific evidence can help prove your claim, including:

  • Witness statements. Testimony from eyewitnesses who heard the false statement can be excellent evidence in a slander claim. They can confirm the details of the defamatory statement and its publication, such as what was said, when it was said and to whom.
  • Documentation. If someone makes a slanderous statement, save and organize any documentary evidence, such as audio recordings, emails, texts or social media posts.
  • Expert testimony. Defamation expert witnesses with experience in the communications field can testify about the impact of the false statement on your reputation and public perception.
  • Financial and medical records. You can show records detailing lost income or business to prove that the defamatory statement caused you financial harm. Medical records can show your emotional distress due to the slander.

As the evidence needed to prove a slander lawsuit can vary depending on your specific case and jurisdiction, seek help from an attorney with experience in the field.

Can You Sue Someone for Ruining Your Reputation?

Yes, you can file a slander lawsuit against someone for ruining your reputation. However, while the law is typically on your side, when someone tarnishes your good name, slander can be tricky to prove, and evidence may be hard to produce. To have a chance of winning a slander lawsuit, you typically need to show:

  • False statement. The slanderous statement must be false.
  • Publication. The false statement was communicated to another person other than you and the defendant.
  • Harm. The defamatory statement damaged your reputation, leading to adverse effects on your career or business or impacting your personal life. Harm can include financial losses and emotional distress.
  • Intent. The person slandering you intentionally spreads wrong information about you. Having proof that they acted with malice can further strengthen your case.

In slander per se, such as falsely claiming someone committed a crime or immoral conduct, you don’t have to prove damages to have a case. The law presumes that slander per se is inherently damaging to your reputation.

Slander cases can be tough to litigate. Consider working with an experienced attorney who can guide you and build a strong case on your behalf.

What Does Slander Mean?

Slander means making a false and damaging spoken statement that harms the reputation of a person, organization or business. It involves intentionally communicating false information to damage your character. Slander only deals with the spoken word and is a form of verbal defamation, distinguishing it from libel (written defamation). Both slander and libel fall under defamation laws.

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