How to File a Civil Suit for Defamation of Character

By Trudie Longren
Defamation of character involves false information resulting in damage to one's reputation.

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Defamation of character is a type of legal wrong in which one party injures another party's reputation by writing or saying something false and making that statement public. Civil lawsuits for defamation of character are filed to put an end to ongoing damage to reputation and to request monetary compensation for past damage to reputation and character. Civil suits for defamation of character may include statements made regarding a person's own character or that of her business or close relations, such as a child or spouse.

Identify the exact statement or words which cast your character in a false light. All defamation cases turn on exact words that are made public. You must specify the exact words used and demonstrate how those words caused damage to your reputation or character.

Find the exact statute prohibiting defamatory statements. Look at the state laws available on the state legislative or judicial websites to find the statutes prohibiting defamation. Be ready to cite those statutes in your complaint.

File a complaint with the court and submit the court's filing fee. You may file in the state of residence of the party that made the statement or in the state where the false statement was made public. The complaint must state you are bringing the case for defamation of character, cite the relevant state statute and must specify the exact words forming the basis of your lawsuit.

Serve a copy of the complaint on the other party and provide proof to the court that you duly served the complaint. Each state court has rules explaining how to serve a complaint. Ask the court clerk what the rules are and follow those rules when delivering a copy of the complaint to the other party.

Await the other party's answer. The other party will be obligated to file an answer to your complaint. Read the answer to get an idea of how the other party will defend her actions. If the other party fails to file an answer in a timely manner, the court can award a default judgment in your favor and against the other party.

About the Author

Trudie Longren began writing in 2008 for legal publications, including the "American Journal of Criminal Law." She has served as a classroom teacher and legal writing professor. Longren holds a bachelor's degree in international politics, a Juris Doctor and an LL.M. in human rights. She also speaks Spanish and French.

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