Can You Sue Someone for Public Humiliation?

By Cara O'Neill ; Updated June 16, 2017
businessman in blue shirt  and tie signing contract

Public humiliation – the act of embarrassing someone in the eyes of other people – can be a civil offense if the victim experiences negative effects on his personal, financial or physical state. Public humiliation is often related to defamation, or the act of another person saying or writing something that hurts someone's reputation.


Libel – a form of defamation – can be traced using written and recorded documents, whether physical or electronic. Libelous documents include letters, newspapers, recorded radio broadcasts, blogs, emails and even text messages. You can file a lawsuit for libel if the statements released by the individual or an institution are false and have hurt your reputation. For example, if you’re a teacher and a person blogged about your incompetence and this resulted in your being fired, you can file a lawsuit for libel against that person.


Slander, commonly in the form of spoken language, can also include nonverbal acts like hand gestures. You can file a lawsuit for slander if the statement causes you financial loss, such as if a person says to your employer that you are not fit for the job and your employer fires you because of that comment. Filing a lawsuit for slander requires that the act occur in public and you have witnesses who can prove it happened. You can sue for slander even without financial loss. If someone falsely accuses you of being a criminal, alleges that you have a contagious disease, tries to ruin your profession or business by claiming you are a thief, or accuses you of being an adulterer, you can sue for slander.

Assault and Battery

Public humiliation can come in the form of someone physically hurting you or threatening to hurt you in front of others. You can't sue someone for the humiliation you feel because of a public beating or threat, but you can sue for assault and battery. Assault is the act of threatening to hurt another person physically. Battery is the act of actually hurting that person. In some states, assault and battery are no longer distinguished as separate acts.

Filing a Complaint

When you file a defamation lawsuit, the first step is to prove that the statements were false. Then you must prove that the statement harmed your reputation and financial status. You also must prove that the person who committed the act failed to verify what he said and did it just to harm your reputation. The filing process can be lengthy and costly. Even if you win, the compensation you receive may not be enough to pay for the overall costs in attorneys' fees, depending on the extent of the defendant's assets

About the Author

An attorney for more than 20 years, Cara O'Neill currently practices in the areas of civil litigation, family law and bankruptcy. She also served as an Administrative Law Judge and taught undergraduate and graduate courses in the areas of employment law, business law and criminal law for a well-known university. Attending the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, she graduated a National member of the Order of the Barristers - an honor society recognizing excellence in courtroom advocacy. She is currently licensed in the state of California.