Is It Defamatory If…?

homeleftsideDefamation is the act of publicly lying about a person or business. In our viral age, online defamation has the power to demolish a reputation; savage a career. One malicious social media post can lead to lost jobs and lost relationships.

Which is why it’s so important to fight back against people who lie about you online.

What Is – And Is Not – Defamatory?

Defamation isn’t simply negative commentary or public venting. If you have a truthful, less-than-savory skeleton in your past, and someone airs it on the Internet, typically, it’s not considered defamation. That said, in such circumstances, you may be able to evoke another tort, like false light or public disclosure of private facts.

Talk to a lawyer. He or she will be able to point you in the best direction after hearing the specifics of your situation.

What can I do if someone publicizes a reputation-ruining truth about me?

Fact: nobody is perfect. Into every life, a little scandal – and a lot of mistakes – must fall. When people go through difficult times, they often act out. So, what happens if someone tells the world about your less-than-ideal behavior from the past? What if someone drudges up decades-old (true) gossip about you and shares it with the Internet? Do you have any legal recourse? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Let’s go over a few scenarios.

Someone Spills The Beans About An Extramarital Affair

Let’s be frank: The public treats cheaters like lepers. Little more arouses our sanctimonious sides. We tattoo “scarlet A’s” on folks who engage in extramarital dalliances – forgiveness and extenuating circumstances be damned. That’s just how it is.

So, what if you’ve been marked as the Hester – or Hank – Prynne of your community? Can you sue the person who jettisoned your skeleton out of the closet? It depends.

If there isn’t proof of the affair, you can attempt a defamation suit. To win a slander or libel claim, in a U.S. court, the statement at issue must be false – and it’s the responsibility of the plaintiff to prove it’s false. So, if the defendant can’t prove that you got busy with someone other than your spouse, technically, you have a shot at winning. But, if during the course of litigation, evidence of your infidelity surfaces – you’ll probably lose.

Depending on jurisdiction, you could try to sue the person who “outs” your affair for public distribution of private facts.

Someone Announces You Have HIV or Another Disease

Though we’ve come a long way in understanding – and treating – various diseases, public opinion isn’t always compassionate when it comes to revelations. So, what can a person, who’s been “medically outted,” do – legally speaking?

  • File a defamation lawsuit. Again, this will only work if the defendant has no way of proving that their information is accurate. Under U.S. law, for something to be deemed defamatory, it must be proven false.
  • Depending on the jurisdiction, an aggrieved party can pursue false light or publication or private fact claims.
  • Victims of “disease outing” also have another option. Certain laws – both federal and state – confer privacy rights on medical records. Those laws can sometimes be used to legally punish a person who reveals another person’s health condition without authorization.

Someone Implies You’re A Criminal

Being stamped a criminal can demolish a reputation. People who are deemed flagrant lawbreakers must contend with a host of social problems – not the least of which is decreased job opportunities. In fact, the negative ramifications of being pinned a felon are so known that in most jurisdictions defamation plaintiffs don’t have to prove harm. The standard is known as defamation per se.

Now, if you committed a crime, and your detractor can prove it, the chances of winning a slander or libel lawsuit diminish significantly. If you didn’t commit a crime, though, you may have an excellent shot at winning.

Someone Claims You Stink At Your Job or Profession

Accusations involving workplace proficiency are the catalyst for many defamation lawsuits. And they’re often the most difficult to win. Why? Because opinion is not defamatory. And more often than not, offering an assessment of someone’s skills is a matter of opinion, not fact.

Let’s look at some hypothetical examples.

Attack of The Unhappy Patient

John Doe is a patient of Dr. Dent, D.D.S. After a particularly grueling root canal, Doe takes to the Internet: “Never have I experienced so much pain during a root canal! And Dent didn’t care. His chair-side manner may suit a masochist, but not me! Trust me, don’t use Dr. Dent!”

Harsh words, no doubt. But are they defamatory? Probably not.

“How!?” you ask. Because in the eyes of the law, John Doe’s online invective amounts to free speech. After all, Dent’s root canal may have been the most painful John Doe ever had. There’s no way to prove otherwise. As for Doe’s advice not to patron Dr. Dent? Again, it’s ultimately an opinion.

Now, if John Doe got carried away on a wave of exaggeration and told the world that Dr. Dent cracked his tooth in five places, when, indeed, the good dentist had not – that’s another thing altogether.

The general rule of thumb goes like this: If it’s a negative opinion, it’s not defamatory; if it’s an outright lie, it may be defamatory. Unfortunately, subjectivity still plays a small role when it comes to slander and libel lawsuits. After all, what one person – or judge – may see as a “false statement of fact,” another person may view as a “hyperbolic tantrum.” The former is against the law; the latter is not.

Do Small Mistakes Amount To Defamation?

Another common defamation misconception involves small errors. Media outlets do it all the time. They misquote a figure, get a date wrong or make a small error of fact. These minute mistakes are rarely deemed defamatory – especially if the error is corrected, post-haste, when discovered.

Find Out If You Have A Valid Claim – It’s Quick, Painless and Probably Less Expensive Than You Think

The best thing to do when deciding on a defamation lawsuit is to consult a defamation attorney – one deeply familiar with current case law. Kelly Warner was one of the first firms to concentrate on Internet defamation. Over the years, we’ve earned an excellent reputation – case by case. Our prices are more than reasonable – and we pride ourselves on offering unique solutions to online libel problems. Get in touch today with questions. Let’s get to work.