The Legal Rights of Minor Children in Defamation of Character on a Child

Written by lesley henton
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The Legal Rights of Minor Children in Defamation of Character on a Child
Cases involving the defamation of a minor are likely the result of bullying. (BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Cases of defamation of character on a minor are most likely related to bullying, a practice that has increased in severity with the advent of texting and the Internet. Minors have the same legal rights under defamation law as adults, so if someone has said or written something that caused injury to your child, you may have legal recourse.

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Defamation of character is written or spoken injury to a person or organisation's reputation. Defamation falls under tort law; a tort is an act that injures a person in some way, and that person can sue the wrongdoer for damages in a civil court. Defamation is an intentional tort, which means the offence was committed either purposefully or negligently. The types of defamation are slander, which is a defamatory statement that is spoken, and libel, which is one that is printed or recorded in a tangible form, such as video.

Injurious Statements

What constitutes defamation is not always clear-cut. "Online articles continually define defamation as false statements about a person or organisation, but this is incorrect," says Nicholas Carroll, author of "Fighting Slander." "If the false statements do no harm, there is no defamation. Conversely, truthful statements can be defamatory, as when they paint someone in a false light. An example would be continually repeating 'Look at all those expensive gold chains he's wearing. Makes you wonder where he gets the money.' The statements are true, but the insinuation is that the person is a drug dealer." The four legally established ways to defame a person or organisation are: making allegations that cause injury to a trade, business or profession; accusing an unmarried woman of being unchaste; making accusations of criminal conduct; and imputations of loathsome disease. .

Defamation of a Minor and Bullying

When defamation is alleged as a result of bullying, there may or may not be grounds for a lawsuit, because bullying in itself is not defamation. It becomes defamation when the statements cross the line to injuring a reputation, whether through falsehood, or by portraying someone in a false light. "Simple hate speech is not enough, so racial epithets aren't defamation," writes Nicholas Carroll. "But I suspect 'slut' would come under that category in a lawsuit, especially when levelled against a minor."


Defamation cases involving minors can be heard in civil court, but a parent or other adult must file a lawsuit on behalf of the child, since minors have no standing with U.S. courts. While there are state laws regarding defamation, most all defamation law is case law -- determined by court decisions in individual cases, rather than specifically passed by state or federal legislature. For a judge to accept a defamation case, you need some plausible claim of damages, "something more than 'he defamed me to aliens and now it's all over the Galaxy,'" Carroll writes. The two claims that succeed most often are financial harm and emotional distress. Financial harm as a claim is not usually available to minors since they don't have much in the way of finances, except in rare cases, "like if you just graduated from M.I.T. with a Ph.D. at age 17, and defamation shoots down a job offer -- that's financial harm," Carroll writes. To prove a claim of emotional distress, there usually needs to be a physical manifestation such as an intestinal disorder, inability to complete schoolwork, bulimia or another condition that is visible to a doctor, teacher or social worker. In addition to seeking damages by filing a lawsuit, you can also ask the court for an injunction to stop further defamation.

The Legal Rights of Minor Children in Defamation of Character on a Child
Emotional distress is a common claim in lawsuits alleging defamation of a minor. (Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

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