In the state of Massachusetts, slander is defined as words spoken in a manner to cause harm to another. This is a delicate definition because harm is specific to a person. Resolving the issue of whether harm has been committed and what the penalty may be is decided in the court's consideration of a slander lawsuit. In Massachusetts, filings are not dealt with in small claims court, which makes it more difficult for individuals to file frivolous cases. You will need an attorney to handle your case, but there are several points that you must consider and prepare as information for your filing.
Gather any evidence that you have that slander occurred. Since slander is about a person's words against you, this may be difficult. If you were able to record the conversation or incident or have witnesses, this will be very helpful. In the case of witnesses, ask them to prepare a statement of what they heard and get them notarized. Be aware that witnesses must have heard the alleged slander firsthand. Being told what was said is not admissible in court as it is considered hearsay.
Read More: How to Protect Yourself Against Slander
Act with the time of the incident in mind. In Massachusetts the statute of limitations on slander is three years. While this may seem like enough time to address the situation, keep in mind that you may lose track of where the accused and witnesses reside. Memories may also be problematic as time passes.
Connect slander with defamation. Slander may be protected by free speech; but if the words harmed you, then defamation is part of your case. For example, if someone slandered you by saying you cheated on your spouse, it would become defamation if you lost your job because of this. This loss would make the cost of the accused's words concrete. In the state of Massachusetts, you do not have to prove or plead that there is an economic cost in order to claim defamation. If you lost a job that you enjoyed but got another job, there may be no economic cost, but there is an emotional one. Document this by writing your feelings and by obtaining statements from past coworkers about your working relationships before and after the slander.
Research and find an attorney well versed in civil lawsuits that involve slander disputes. One way to do this is to search your local or area-wide Massachusetts city newspaper. Use the keywords "slander" and "defamation" to find recent filed cases. Write down the names of attorneys mentioned and visit their websites or call them to get information. Make an appointment. Bring all of your documents and be prepared to communicate your story.
File your case through your attorney. While your attorney will be primarily responsible for this task, it is beneficial to ask questions and learn about specific rules for your jurisdiction. Make sure that you know the court filing fees and what the fees cover. Your attorney's fees should be explained to you as separate costs. Get a detailed breakdown of all of the expenses.
Prepare for your initial court date. At this preliminary hearing you and your attorney will present your documents and testimony to the court. Be prepared that this date may be postponed by the accused while he prepares his defense. Once all parties are present and prepared for a joint hearing, a judge will review the case and decide if it has merit to continue to a full proceeding that will determine fault. At this point you can request a jury trial or one that is decided by the judge.
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images