In today’s world, news travels quickly. Gossip posted online spreads to hundreds of people in seconds. Though everyone has the right to free speech, this right must be exercised responsibly. If you intentionally or maliciously post something that harms someone, you may face a defamation suit and be liable for damages. In this article, we’ll cover what makes defamation and how to defend yourself when someone sues you for defamation.
The term ‘defamation’ is a legal term that covers any written, spoken, or published communication of a false assertion of fact to a third-party, which damages someone’s reputation. It’s also referred to as the “tort of defamation” or “defamation of character” It’s categorized as a civil wrong in the United States and lets plaintiffs recover monetary damages for the harm they suffered.
What are the elements of defamation?
In Arizona, the plaintiffs must prove the following elements:
- a false statement concerning the plaintiff;
- the statement was defamatory;
- the statement was published to a third party;
- the requisite fault on the part of the defendant; and
- the plaintiff was damaged as a result of the statement.
The plaintiff making the accusation must prove that the statement itself is untrue, that the untrue statement was damaging to their good name, and that the statement was given to a third-party, like another person.
The fourth element covers intent. The defamed suing must prove that the accused knowingly made the false statement or there was a reckless disregard for the truth.
A plaintiff in a defamation case is entitled to receive damages for any lost earnings, future lost earning capacity, and other lost business or economic opportunities that they suffered or is likely to suffer as a result of the defamatory statement.
Actual Malice and Negligence
Arizona courts apply a negligence standard to defamation claims brought by a private person seeking compensatory damages. This means that the claimant must only prove that the defaming statement was made negligently, disregarding intent.
Public officials, all-purpose public figures, and limited-purpose public figures must prove that the defendant acted with actual malice, the communication of the false statement was intentional or recklessly disregarded their falsity.
Defamation Types: Libel and slander
Libel and slander are legal terms that fall under defamatory comments. Libelous acts are limited to statements made in writing while slanderous acts are limited to those made orally.
Defamation Per Se and Per Quod
Arizona defamation law distinguishes between statements that constitute defamation per se and defamation per quod. Defamation per se means that the statement is presumed to be defamatory because it is damaging at face value. An example would be a statement that “Imputes the commission of a crime involving moral turpitude,” meaning an accusation that someone committed a serious crime.
In contrast, defamation per quod is a statement that is not inherently or defamatory, although the circumstances and additional facts may make it so.
The distinction affects the type of damages a plaintiff must allege to prevail. To recover for defamation per quod, a plaintiff must allege special damages. Special damages are damages suffered by the plaintiff. In contrast, to recover for defamation per se, a plaintiff does not have to allege special damages and may instead allege non-pecuniary damages, such as damage to his reputation.
Defenses against defamation or a slander or libel lawsuit
Several defenses can be used to defend against a defamation action: absolute privilege, qualified privilege, truth, and pure opinion.
Truth is an absolute defense to an allegation of defamation. Statements of fact do not fall under this if the statement can be proven true, then it isn’t defamation.
The opinion is another defense because it is not actionable. A statement counts as an opinion if it can’t be proven to be objectively true or false. An example would be saying that a movie is bad.
The absolute privilege applies to statements made in certain contexts or certain venues. In these situations, the person making the statement had the right to say it, regardless of whether or not it was defamatory. One example is during judicial proceedings. When absolute privilege applies to an individual’s speech, they have immunity from defamation cases.
Some types of communication may fall under qualified privilege. A person may be protected by the qualified privilege if they had a legal, moral, or social duty to make that statement in good faith. To win the defamation case in this situation, the plaintiff must prove that the person communicated the statement with malice or hatred.
If you’re sued for defamation, get an experienced law firm to help you. Call us at Dodds Law Firm for assistance.