When one person makes false accusations against or statements about another and “publishes” those statements (by transmitting them to a third party by written word or word of mouth), and those statements damage the reputation, character or integrity of that person, the target of the statements may recover damages from the person who uttered the false statements. Such statements are called defamation of character.
There are two types of defamation
Libel: Libel is a defamation that is written, such as in a newspaper, magazine or on the internet.
Slander: Slander is a defamation that is orally published, such as in a speech, over the airwaves, or in casual conversation.
What are the elements of a defamation case?
Aside from the oral or written character of the statements, the elements of a libel or slander case are the same. The plaintiff must show that:
The defendant made a false and defamatory statement that he knew or should have known was false (this makes the standard for defamation negligence)—note some false statements do not harm the reputation of the target; and when the defamatory statement is part of a larger whole, if the defamatory part is a insignificant inaccuracy, it will not be considered defamatory;
The false statement clearly identified the target—vague statements cannot be construed as being about a particular person. If you’ve ever wondered why films disclaim that any resemblance to actual, living people is coincidental, it is to dispel any notion they are clearly identifying a person for malicious statements. Short of actually naming a person (or something close to is, such as “the man who lives in apartment B at such and such an address), it can be difficult to establish the statement has identified the target;
The defendant published the defamatory statement to at least one-third party who is not the target—if the publication is written, the defamation is libel; if the publication is oral, the defamation is slander;
The defamation damaged his character in some way.