How to file a defamation of character lawsuit

Written by david carnes
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How to file a defamation of character lawsuit
(gavel image by Cora Reed from

If someone has made a false statement about you, you may be able to sue them for defamation of character. There are two kinds of defamation: slander, which is defamation in spoken form, and libel, or defamation in written form. Unless you are considered by the court to be a public figure or involved in a public issue, you need not prove that the defendant made the statement with the intent to harm you. You will, however, have to prove that the statement actually harmed you.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Record of defamatory statement
  • State court civil complaint form

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  1. 1

    Determine the identity of the defendants. You may sue not only the person who made the defamatory statement, but also anyone who repeated it or published it.

  2. 2

    Obtain a copy of the defamatory statement, if it was published or written down. If only a verbal statement was made, you can use the person to whom the statement was made as a witness in your favour. If the witness is unwilling to testify, you may petition the judge to issue a subpoena compelling the witness to testify under oath.

  3. 3

    Assemble evidence that the statement is untrue. The burden of proof rests with the plaintiff to establish that the statement is false.

  4. 4

    Establish that the statement was defamatory. It is defamatory if it had a tendency to harm your reputation, or if by its nature it would cause mental anguish to a reasonable person of average sensitivity. Certain types of statements are almost always considered defamatory--attacks on professional character, accusations of sexual promiscuity, claims that that you committed a morally repugnant crime, and assertions that you have contracted a sexually transmitted disease.

  5. 5

    Establish that you suffered damages as a result of the defamatory statement. These damages can include economic damages, damages to your reputation, and mental anguish.

  6. 6

    File a lawsuit against the defendant in the state district court. Your complaint should allege each element of defamation of character as set forth above.

Tips and warnings

  • The most common cause of defamation lawsuits is inaccurate information placed on a credit report.
  • Carefully consider whether you wish to file a defamation lawsuit, because any publicity resulting from the lawsuit will inform even more people about the defamatory statement.

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