Elements of Libel and Slander

Defamation laws safeguard the reputation of people and other entities like businesses from false and harmful statements. Libel is a statement that can be viewed or in the form of written and published statement. Slander refers to a defamatory statement which is spoken or audible through radio. To show these types of defamation, the plaintiffs must prove the presence of the four elements:

  • The plaintiff must show that the defendant made an untrue and defamatory statement about the plaintiff;
  • The plaintiff must prove that the defendant made an unprivileged publication to the third party;
  • The plaintiff must prove that the publisher acted negligently in publishing the communication; and
  • In some circumstances, the plaintiff must prove special damages.

Defamatory Statements

A vital element in any defamation action is that the defendant published something defamatory about the plaintiff. The communication may be called defamatory if it tends to “harm a person’s reputation; decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which the person is held,” as defined in the freedictionary.com.

Some samples of defamatory statements include the following:

  • A communication that affects the plaintiff’s economic or financial well-being
  • A communication that implies that the plaintiff is involve in a serious crime which entails moral turpitude or felony;
  • A communication that suggests that the plaintiff is suffering from physical and/or mental defect that can cause others to avoid relating with the plaintiff
  • A communication that exposes the plaintiff to being ridiculed
  • A communication that reveals negatively on the character, integrity, and morality of the plaintiff

The courts have struggled in determining the standards in making decisions whether the statement is defamatory. There are many statements that can be seen as defamatory by others, but the same statements may not be seen as defamatory by some. Generally, courts need the plaintiff to show that he/she is defamed in the eyes of the community or within a defined group within the community where jury decides on this question.

Publication Requirement

Another requirement in libel and slander cases is for the defendant to have published the defamatory statement about the plaintiff. “Publication” refers to traditional forms like newspapers, books, and magazines. Oral remarks or statements and streaming audio clips in the internet are also included in this category. As long as the person to whom the statement is communicated who can understand the meaning of the statement, courts generally discover that the statement is published.

Meaning of a Communication

The context of the statement may be determined whether or not it is defamatory. The Restatement stipulates that the “meaning of a communication is that which the recipient correctly or mistakenly but reasonably understands that it was intended to express.” Generally, the courts will consider the related facts and circumstances in knowing the meaning of the statement. If the two statements are similar in their words, where one may be defamatory while the other may not be, depending on the context of the statements or remarks.

Reference to the Plaintiff

In a defamation case, the recipient of the communication should understand that the defendant intends to refer to the plaintiff in the communication. Although the recipient mistakenly deems that the communication is the plaintiff, this belief as long as it is reasonable, is enough. It does not need that the communication means the plaintiff by name. The defendant may publish the defamatory statement in the form of story that obviously refers to fictitious characters, where a reasonable individual understands that the character actually refers to the plaintiff. This may be true even if the writer says that he/she intends the work to be fictional.

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