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Can I Sue Someone for Spreading Lies About Me?

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt
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Although we all have the right to freedom of speech, this does not mean spreading lies or untrue statements about people or businesses isn’t subject to judicial punishment.

As an experienced defamation lawyer with over ten years of experience, I will share the essential information so that you can understand your legal options and the laws that protect you against defamation.

Quick Summary

  • A defamation of character lawsuit is when someone sues because they were falsely accused of something bad. 
  • Although not as commonly known, defamation is, in fact, punishable via a civil court.
  • All states have different defamation laws, but the core principles are usually the same.

Is Spreading Lies About Someone A Crime?

A woman zipping his mouth in front of a pink background

Yes, spreading lies about someone is a crime. This is because when lies are spread with the intent to harm someone's reputation, it becomes defamation. This is considered a civil offense and can be punished by a judge or jury. 

These lies are called defamation of character and can be either spoken (slander) or written (libel).

You have the right to sue for damages if you believe someone has maliciously made false statements about you. For your case to succeed, you must prove that the defendant deliberately made slanderous statements with malicious intent.

Defamation

A lawyer and a client discussing defamation"Defamation of character" refers to any written defamation that hurts someone's reputation. Most states do not consider it a crime but rather a civil wrong or tort [1].

Defamation law protects people's reputations from false and malicious attacks while protecting those who speak out freely without fear of legal repercussions.

If you're damaged by false statements made about you that affect your career, personal life, and public reputation, you can file a defamation lawsuit.

Maybe you were accused of rape or another sex crime, but you're innocent. Unfortunately, because of the false and detrimental statements, you lost your job and the respect of others in your community.

If no charges are pending against you, consider filing a defamation lawsuit.

A defamation lawsuit is when someone communicates false statements about you to try and harm your reputation. You have to show in your lawsuit that this person was fully aware of their false statements and how they could harm you.

Defamation of character civil lawsuit for false accusations of a crime can come in a slander or libel claim.

Examples Of Defamation

One example of defamation is when an individual makes a slanderous statement about someone that intentionally harms their reputation, such as accusing them of stealing from their place of work.

Slander

A lawyer looking up slander in a law bookThere are two types of defamatory statements: libel and slander. Libel is when the defamation is written down, while slander is spoken defamation. Most courts find that libel does more damage than slander because writing lasts longer, and human memory fades over time [2].

Although often not as severe, slander can be just as damaging as libel. If you want to sue for slander, it must be proven that at least one other person heard or witnessed the false statement.

In a usual situation, the plaintiff (the person bringing forward the claim or lawsuit) has to show evidence of their damages. 

However, in "slander per se," where the courts, jury members, or insurer thinks that the defamatory messages bring shame upon the plaintiff's good name, they do not require told individual to prove any damage done.

If you win your defamation lawsuit, you may be compensated for any actual financial losses the false allegations caused. 

The lawsuit over libel or slander claims will reimburse the plaintiff for losses addressing disgrace, chaos, and emotional stress after being deceitfully blamed for a crime.

Even though these aren't actual financial losses because they can be estimated precisely, an experienced defamation lawyer can calculate their worth as damages.

Examples of Slander

The court can consider the statements below slander:

  • False and harmful statements made about someone's occupation or business
  • False claims about someone's criminal history
  • Being falsely accused of sexual misconduct or unchastity can be a difficult and stressful experience.
  • False allegations that someone has a venereal disease

Libel

A lawyer writing down the definition of libelLibel is a written defamatory statement that harms a person's reputation. Libel can include statements made in newspapers, magazines, television, radio, books, and in blogs [3].

The key distinction between libel and slander is that the former is written while the latter is spoken.

Other than that, they are similar in that it must be shown that the defamatory comment was said with actual malice and resulted in damage to the plaintiff's reputation.

Examples of Libel

  • Making false and defamatory statements about someone in a book or article.
  • Posting fraudulent information about someone on a website or social media platform.
  • Falsely accusing someone of committing a crime in an online post.
  • Writing blog posts or articles with false information can cause harm to the plaintiff's reputation.

Can You Sue Someone For Spreading Lies About You?

An attorney and a client suing someone for spreading lies

Yes, you can sue someone for spreading lies about you. If the false statements damage your reputation, you may be able to file slander lawsuits.

To sue for slander, you need to prove slander. In this case, you will need to have a few elements in your slander lawsuit.

Elements That Must Exist In Defamation Lawsuits

Although defamation laws differ from one state to another, a plaintiff must typically prove the following elements:

  1. The defendant made a statement.
  2. The slanderous statement was published or spoken defamation.
  3. The defamation statements caused the injury.
  4. The defamation statements were false.
  5. The defamatory statement did not fall into a privileged category.

If the following elements are present, you might be able to sue for slander. To confirm you have sufficient justification for a sander lawsuit, consult a defamation attorney before taking further action.

How Do You Prove That Someone Was Spreading Lies?

A person in court proving someone was spreading liesYou prove that someone was spreading lies when an individual makes a false, published statement that harms another person's reputation.

Although defamation laws differ based on state, the fundamental concepts of defamation law are similar across all states.

To sue for slander is complicated, mainly because defamation laws have to reconcile protecting people's reputations while also permitting the free expression of ideas.

Typically, a plaintiff who wants to sue for slander must show the following:

  • The Truth: A defamatory statement needs to be false. If the statement is true, then there is no defamation case.
  • Opinion: If someone makes a defamatory statement about you, it is essential to note that this does not necessarily mean they are guilty of slander. This is because the court cannot consider opinions as such.
  • Absolute Privileges: individuals with specific job positions or statuses are shielded from defamation laws in particular circumstances, for example, when a witness testifies during court. However, you more than likely won't be able to file a slander lawsuit if the defendant has an absolute privilege.
  • Qualified Privileges: Some false statements may fall under "qualified privilege," which means that people can say whatever they want as long as it's technically true. For example, the qualified privilege applies to those situations if you're critiquing the media or warning someone of potential danger. However, if the speaker made the statement knowing it wasn't true (with actual malice), then they aren't entitled to qualified privilege.
  • Retraction: A retraction is a formal withdrawal of an alleged defamatory statement that occurs in public. Even though you can sue for slander, the retraction may lessen any losses caused by the original statement and lower the amount recoverable through litigation.

Based on my experience, it is essential to remember that defamation law is complicated and may vary from state to state. To make sure you are clear, consult with a qualified attorney before making any statement that could be potentially defamatory.

"When you make statements about a matter of public interest, the court may not consider your words defamatory."
- Jonathan Rosenfeld, Defamation Attorney

What Damages Can You Recover When You Sue?

A lawyer explaining to a client how to recover damages when you sueWhen you sue, you can recover actual damages, punitive damages, and non-monetary damages. Being the victim of misinformation is stressful, at best.

If these statements are about your character, career, or conduct, they could quickly negatively impact your private and public life.

If a malicious and false statement has viciously harmed you, you reserve the right to demand financial compensation through a civil lawsuit. With this type of legal action, potential forms of reimbursement include:

Actual Damages

When a court awards damages for slander, it does so to make the victim whole again by granting them an amount of money that will cover their financial losses.

These types of damages are known as actual damages and may include the following:

  • Lost Wages, Income, and Benefits
  • Decreased Earning Capacity
  • Lost Business Revenue
  • Medical Bills
  • Other Expenses

Non-Monetary Losses

A lawyer and client talking about non-monetary losses

Defamation victims may experience non-monetary damages in addition to financial losses.

These include but are not limited to the following:

In a defamation suit, non-monetary damages are determined by a judge, jury, or insurer. An experienced defamation lawyer can help you prove the impact of these damages to get the largest settlement possible.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are typically awarded to the plaintiff in addition to compensatory damages, which aim to compensate the victim for their losses. The principal purpose of punitive damages is not financial compensation but punishing a guilty party's offensive behavior.

Related Article: What Are Punitive Damages in a Lawsuit?

See all related personal injury cases our lawyers are taking on.

FAQs

How Much Is a Defamation Case Worth?

The amount of money a defamation case is worth may differ based on the circumstances, but generally speaking, the higher the degree of fault and harm suffered by the plaintiff, the more likely they will be awarded damages.

Can I Sue Someone For Slander If I Don't Have Any Evidence?

Yes, you can sue someone for slander if you don’t have any evidence. In most cases, plaintiffs are required to provide evidence of actual malice during a defamation lawsuit.

What is a False Statement?

A false statement is an incorrect or untrue message that the speaker expresses with the intent to deceive others. In defamation lawsuits, these statements are designed to hurt another person's reputation.

What is Protected Opinion?

A protected opinion is a type of speech that is not covered by defamation laws. This includes an individual expressing their opinion about another person, business, or event without making false statements.

Is it Difficult to Sue for Slander?

No, it's not difficult to sue for slander. However, it is important to understand the elements of a successful defamation case to properly prepare your legal argument and build a strong case against the person you are suing.

Do You Have a Personal Injury Case?

One false and defamatory statement against a person's reputation can be painful, humiliating, and, in the worst cases, life-ruining. Fortunately, defamation law can assist you in holding people accountable for damaging your honor, career, and personal life.

Contact Schmidt & Clark for a free consultation session with qualified, experienced defamation lawyers to discuss your case.

With over 18 years of experience, Schmidt & Clark is dedicated to helping victims of slander and libel pursue the justice and compensation they deserve. We will go above and beyond to ensure you get the best outcome possible.


References:

  1. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/defamation#:~:text=Defamation%20is%20a%20statement%20that,for%20defamation%20and%20potential%20damages.
  2. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/slander
  3. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/libel

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