Is it Worth Suing for Defamation?
Steven T. Lowe
Defamation is a civil cause of action that creates a great amount of stir when a case is filed. Defamation occurs when a person:
- makes a false statement of fact about you or your business;
- the statement was published (made to a third party);
- the person who made the statement did so negligently, recklessly, or intentionally; and
- as a result of the statement, your reputation was damaged.
The question that many clients ask is: “Is it worth it to sue for defamation?” We answer this question and explain defamation below.
Types of Defamation
In California, and many other states, there are two types of defamation:
- Libel, and
If a statement is made verbally, it is slander. If the defamation is in writing, it is libel.
Defamation per se
Certain types of false statements are so damaging, they are considered defamation per se. California has a very broad interpretation of per se defamation, including anything that is damaging on its face without further explanation.
Many other states limit this to a person falsely accusing you or your business of:
- committing a crime,
- having a venereal disease;
- being unfit for a trade, business, or profession; or
- that a person is impotent or unchaste.
Defamation per quod
Under California law, if it is not defamation per se, it is defamation per quod. This is when a statement is not obviously defamatory on its face, but requires proof that the statement is defamatory and subjects you or your business to special damages.
Special damages include, but are not limited to:
- lost profits;
- loss of business relationships;
- interference with contractual relationships;
- decreased business traffic; or
- adverse employment consequences.
Defamation of Public Figures
Those defined as a “public figure” face a heightened standard of proof over ordinary individuals. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, a public figure must prove that the untrue statement was made against him or her with actual malice.
Although the burden is higher, defamatory statements are made with malice against public figures very often. With the right legal representation, even public figures can overcome this heightened standard of proof and recover for the damages he or she has suffered.
The Anti-SLAPP Statute
One risk of filing a defamation claim relates to the Anti-SLAPP statute under Cal. Civ. Proc. Code 425.16. The statute allows a person to file a special motion to strike a plaintiff’s complaint if the lawsuit is based on an “act in furtherance of [your] right of petition or free speech under the United States or California Constitution in connection with a public issue.”
If a person succeeds in an Anti-SLAPP case, the court will dismiss the plaintiff’s case and award the winner of the lawsuit both attorney’s fees and costs of litigation.
Is it Worth it? Damages in Defamation Cases
The answer is, yes, it is worth it. When a true case of defamation exists, there are damages that are caused as a result. Those damages are compensable through a civil lawsuit, in California and beyond.
After a successful defamation case, a person may be entitled to damages in one of three categories:
- General Damages: This includes loss of reputation, shame, hurt feelings, embarrassment, and more.
- Special Damages: This includes damage to the plaintiff’s property, occupation, trade, profession, or business relationships.
- Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are extra damages designed to punish the party who acted with malice or ill intent. These are awarded in the discretion of the judge or jury and can be a major way to ensure you are never defamed like this again.
These financial awards can compensate you for the loss, anger, and frustration you have suffered as the result of a defamatory statement. It is worth it to sue, not only to recover financially now but to help ensure others do not defame you or your business in the future.
Consult an Experienced California Defamation Attorney
Defamation lawsuits can compensate you financially and help deter others from defaming you or your business in the future.
An experienced California defamation attorney at Lowe & Associates can enforce your rights in your work. Contact us today for a consultation.