Legal Definition of Defamation of Character

By Jennifer Wagner
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A lawsuit for defamation of character involves a false statement made about a person that causes that person harm. It is called slander when the defamatory statement is oral or spoken and libel when it is written.

Elements

A plaintiff in a defamation of character case must prove that the defendant made a false and defamatory statement about the plaintiff, made the statement in way that others saw, heard or read it, and that the plaintiff suffered harm as a result of the statement.

Public Figures

Public figures have a higher burden of proof in libel and slander cases.
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When a defamation of character lawsuit is brought by a public figure, the plaintiff must provide that the defendant acted with acted with actual malice or at least was negligent in making the statement.

The First Amendment

It can be difficult to win a defamation of character lawsuit because some defamatory statements are free speech protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is even more difficult for celebrities to win a case because they have put themselves in a position that involves public scrutiny.

Defenses

Defendants in a defamation of character case can argue that they should not be held liable for the statement if they can provide that the statement was true or was an opinion that is protected by the First Amendment. Defendants can also argue that the plaintiff suffered no harm to their reputation, that the statement was made about a public figure, or that there was no actual malice or negligence on their part in making the defamatory statement.

Damages

Plaintiffs can recover monetary damages if they win a defamation of character lawsuit.
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Plaintiffs in a defamation of character case can win monetary damages equal to the amount. Punitive damages, which are in excess of the harm to the plaintiff, can also be awarded. These are meant to punish the defendant.

About the Author

Based in New York City, Jennifer Wagner has her own blog and writes for various other online news sites and blogs. Her favorite topics are anything to do with pop culture, technology, education and teenagers. Wagner has a law degree from NYU and a master's in library science.