Defamation, Libel, and Slander

Defamation cases are an important part of what a personal injury lawyer does. In August of 2017, Disney agreed to pay as much as $177 million to settle a defamation lawsuit. Understanding this area of law is critical because of recent disputes concerning the First Amendment and the integrity of the press. Keep reading to learn more on this subject.


Defamation is an overarching category that includes both slander and libel. Defamation is a catch-all term for words that hurt an individual’s reputation. This is not a crime, but a tort. When someone commits this transgression, they are liable to be sued. They will not go to jail, however.

A statement is considered defamatory if it is insulting, and makes people heap scorn upon, disgrace, or ridicule the victim. Most of the time, a judge decides if a given statement violates certain norms. There are some cases that are always considered derogatory. These include:

  • A statement that someone has committed a serious, notorious, or immoral crime
  • A statement that someone has an infectious or terrible disease
  • A statement that someone is not a competent worker

This area of law has an exceptionally long history in the United States. In fact, there was a defamation case before the United States declared independence. In the case Crown v. John Peter Zenger, a New York court ruled that if what someone is saying is true, it cannot be considered defamatory. This applies today.

Something that you should keep in mind is that even if a statement is false, it may not be considered a violation. In the case New York Times vs. Sullivan, the Supreme Court ruled that a statement is not considered defamatory unless there is ‘actual malice’. This means that the person who published the comment must have done so with bad intentions, or acted in a way with reckless disregard for the truth.

Another aspect to consider is that only descriptions of facts can be considered defamatory. When someone says their opinion, this is always protected by the First Amendment. For example, it is acceptable to post, “I don’t like my landlord, because they are a jerk.” It is not acceptable to post “I think my landlord has stolen $3,000 from me.” The first is an opinion. The second is a verifiable fact.


Libel is when someone writes an offensive statement. This can be any written statement, across a wide range of media. Someone can post a libelous account on Facebook, in a comment section of an online article, or through a messaging service. This has to be published somewhere, so that other people can see it.

Private people who are defamed have greater protections than politicians or public figures. A celebrity or a governor will have a harder time proving libel than a normal person would.


Slander is when someone makes a defamatory statement out loud. This can happen anywhere: at a party, in a break room at work, or on a phone call with a friend. Just like with libel, more than the two parties must be involved. If you tell Keisha that you think David stole your car, that is slander.

If you have any questions about these laws, contact The Berman Law Group today. Our personal injury lawyers are dedicated, distinguished, and diligent in our approach. Call us at 1-800-375-5555.

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