Houston Defamation Lawyers
What is Defamation?
Defamation is a type of personal injury that occurs when false statements are created and used to hurt people’s character or reputation; expose them to hatred or contempt; or damage their business. A person who has suffered actual damage to their reputation or business as a result of defamatory statements can sue the person who defamed them.
Defamation law balances the competing interests of our right to freedom of speech and our right to avoid defamation.
Two Types of Defamation
Defamation is classified into one of two different categories:
- Slander, or
What is Slander?
Slander is defined as spoken defamation.
What is Libel?
Libel encompasses defamation in print, images and other forms of media.
Defamatory Content Classifications by Interpretation
Defamation can also be categorized by how it is interpreted:
- Per Quod – This describes defamation that is not apparent; but when the context of the statement is considered, damage is sustained.
- Per Se – This describes defamation that is clearly and automatically damaging.
- By Implication – This describes the rare occasions in which a true statement carries a very strong implication that is false. When this occurs, a libel by implication or juxtaposition claim may be made.
What Must You Prove in A Defamation Claim?
The elements required to prove defamation include:
- False Statement – the statement made must be false in order to be considered defamatory. The statement must also be represented as a fact, not an opinion.
- Publication – the defamatory statement must be made to the general public or a third party, not just to the plaintiff.
- Identification – the plaintiff’s name does not have to be stated in order to be considered identified. If some members of the audience believe the defamatory statements refer to the plaintiff, then that person is considered identified.
- Causation of Damages – the plaintiff must prove that there was actual damage to their reputation, or that the statements caused pain and suffering, in order to receive any form of compensation.
- Fault – the standard of fault for defamation can range from negligence to actual malice depending on the type of plaintiff.
Consulting an experienced defamation, slander and libel attorney can help you determine if you have enough evidence to bring a defamation of character lawsuit.
Defamation, Libel and Slander Per Se Exceptions
When dealing with slander or libel per se, you do not have to prove special damages in order to recover. You may recover special damages additionally, if you can prove them; however, proof of special damages is not required to obtain a recovery.
This is because defamation per se is characterized by the “clear and automatic” damage the published statement has on another individual; therefore, all other slanderous statements that are not considered “per se,” are simply negative. Unless the statements made cause actual harm, you cannot sue someone who has only hurt your feelings. In order to be actionable per se, the defamatory statement must fall into one of the following categories:
- Accusing someone of a crime involving moral turpitude (treason, espionage, murder, rape, etc.)
- Alleging someone has been infected with a repugnant disease (AIDS, leprosy, etc.)
- Attacking someone’s professional standing that damages a person’s ability to pursue their business or career.
- Implying someone is immoral or unchaste.
Important Considerations in Defamation, Slander and Libel Cases
In order to bring a successful claim against someone for defamation of character, you must be able to collect damages from them. You also need a substantial injury to make it worth the time and cost of hiring an attorney vs handling it in small-claims court. Mere evidence of hurt feelings will not get you the damages you need. Thus, to justify a lawyer’s involvement, you generally need a defendant with significant assets from which you can recover, making corporations no stranger to defamation lawsuits. Homeowner’s insurance policies generally will not cover this since it typically involves an intentional tort.
Someone who has been affected by defamatory statements in a career settling can struggle undermining the falsity of what was spoken or distributed. This is why consulting an experienced defamation, slander and libel attorney is always a smart decision in these situations. Because of the costs associated with investigating and proving a defamation claim, it can be hard finding a contingency fee attorney to represent you. Contact us today for more information on how our defamation, slander and libel attorneys may be able to help.
Affirmative Defenses for Defamation, Slander and Libel
There are several circumstances in which an defendant is protected against a defamation lawsuit:
- Truth – absolute defense
- Absolute or Qualified Privilege
- Fair Comment or Opinion – you cannot sue someone over their opinion. It must be made as a statement of fact that is false.
- Retraction – Punitive damages are not likely to be awarded in cases where a retraction is not sought. Most states will limit the damages you can pursue to the actual or special damages you acquire (such as lost wages) if a retraction has not be requested or has been ignored.
- Right of Reply – If a statement is made in an environment where the identified individual can respond, proving defamation may be more difficult.
Consulting an experienced defamation, slander and libel attorney can help you evaluate if filing a lawsuit is necessary.
Houston Defamation, Slander and Libel Attorneys
If you have experienced actual damages to your reputation, character or business (that can be quantified) as a result of someone’s defamatory statements made in a business or official capacity, call us for a free consultation. Our defamation, slander and libel attorneys understand the requirements necessary to prove defamation and may be able to help. Contact Simmons and Fletcher, P.C., today to learn more. 800-298-0111.
Paul Cannon has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law (2005). He has earned recognition as a Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters in 2017 & 2018, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017. He is a Shareholder, trial lawyer and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. He has been asked to give education talks and media interviews on dog bite law.