The old adage of "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" is more than just ethical advice. Making defamatory statements about another person can do more than hurt another person's feelings, and they are just cause for a personal injury lawsuit.
The two causes for a defamation lawsuit are slander (oral defamation) and libel (defamation by the written word). However, before you flip through the yellow pages for an attorney for either, make sure you actually do have a potential slander or libel suit on your hands.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Legal Documentation of Defamatory Statements
- Contact Information of Witnesses
Determine if the statements were defamatory. The actual legal definition of "defamation" is any statement that is false, derogatory and hurts someone's reputation. A statement stating that your business purposely scams customers when it does not is defamatory. However, if it is a case of someone making fun of you by depicting you in insulting comics or editorial cartoons, this is not considered defamatory.
Determine if you can prove that the defamatory statements were made. To prove you have been defamed, you have to prove that the statements were all of the following:
published (meaning that a third party heard or read the statement);
false, ruined someone's reputation (for example, the statement caused someone to lose business or friends and family to shun them) and
unprivileged (statements made in a deposition or in a court of law).
Collect all documentation that contains the defamatory statements and/or obtain contact information (address, phone numbers, e-mail address) of the witnesses that heard the defamatory statements.
Ask these witnesses--even witnesses that read the statements in the case of libel--to agree to testify either at a deposition, via affidavit or in a court during trial.
Contact local attorneys that specialise in personal injury (tort) law, specifically defamation. Most personal injury attorneys practice in few areas of tort law, such as medical malpractice or property damage.
Arrange for consultation meetings with a few attorneys to make sure you find an attorney that you feel most comfortable with. If possible, try to find an attorney that works on a contingency-fee basis.
Once you hire an attorney, he or she will handle the filing of your lawsuit and negotiations with the opposing party (the person who made the defamatory statements).
Have your attorney begin negotiations with the offender. Your attorney will send the potential defendant a "demand " letter notifying them of your complaint, damages and potential damages and asking them to cease and desist as well as compensation for your damages.
A typical negotiation settlement includes any economic damages, mental anguish and attorneys' fees. If negotiations break down, your attorney will file a lawsuit on your behalf.
Tips and warnings
- Remember that truth is an absolute defence to a charge of libel or defamation. Accordingly, if the allegedly defamatory statement, no matter how damaging, is true, your lawsuit will not succeed.
- Please be advised that any lawsuit is a very time-consuming and expensive process. Many trials are scheduled on the court docket a year from the initial filing date.
- Be aware there is always the risk that a trial will not rule in your favour. No matter how much evidence you believe you have against the defendant, never assume you will win your case.
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