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Defamation- Libel vs. Slander. The Truth Will Set You Free!

Published in Defamation,Libel,Slander on March 12, 2020.

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Personal injury doesn’t always take the form of physical harm. Many civil cases in Georgia deal instead with injuries to one’s reputation. If someone harmed you or your company with a publicized falsehood, you may have grounds to sue under the legal theory of defamation. Learn the difference between defamation, libel, and slander to better protect yourself from this type of harm in Georgia.

What Is Defamation?

“Defamation” refers to any false statement of fact that someone intentionally or negligently communicates to a third party, which causes injury or damage to the statement’s subject. Georgia Code Title 51 defines local laws for defamation in more detail. Many things may constitute a defamatory statement, from a lie about a person committing a serious crime to falsely stating that a restaurant has rats in an online review.

Any statement other than an opinion that harms an entity’s reputation may be defamation. Defamation laws strike a balance between one party’s freedom of speech and another’s right to defend against injurious falsehoods. To successfully bring a case of defamation, a plaintiff must prove four basic elements:

  1. The defendant published the statement or made it known to a third party. Some third party must have heard or witnesses the statement; otherwise, the defendant has not damaged the plaintiff’s reputation. The statement may be spoken in front of a third party, broadcasted, or published somewhere publicly.
  2. The statement must be false and presented as fact. Personal opinions are not defamation since the plaintiff cannot typically prove them to be objectively false. If the “defamatory statement” is true, the person is simply stating a fact and is not guilty of defamation.
  3. The statement must have caused injury. Without proof of injury, the courts will not deem a plaintiff needs compensation for anything. The plaintiff must show how the defendant’s statement hurt him or her. Damage may include a company losing business, friends and family shunning the plaintiff, or the press harassing the plaintiff.
  4. It was an unprivileged statement. Lawmakers decided that false statements given in “privileged” situations, or those where freedom of speech is so important that it protects a speaker from liability, are not defamatory. For example, if a witness defames a company while on the stand during a murder trial, the law would protect him or her since it was in a privileged situation.

Defamation can be difficult to prove, especially when the plaintiff is a public figure. Since the public has a right to criticize those who govern them, the law tends to side with the defendant in defamation cases involving public officials. In these cases, the plaintiff also must prove that the defendant made the statement with malicious intent.

Libel and Slander

Libel and slander are two types of defamatory statements. A party is guilty of libel if he or she wrote a defamatory statement and is guilty of slander if he or she spoke or stated the defamation orally. One might find libel published in a newspaper, letters to the editor, in blog posts, online in comments sections, on review websites, and in Internet chat rooms. Slanderous statements can occur anywhere, spoken to anyone – as long as the listener is a third party and not the plaintiff. Even simple gossip between friends can be slander if it damages the subject’s reputation and causes harm.

The internet has led to many more libel convictions than in the past, when newspaper editors screened for libelous statements before publication. Remember, for Georgia courts to consider it libel, a plaintiff’s published words must be a false statement of fact and cause injury. If someone publishes a false negative review of your restaurant but you don’t lose any business over it, you likely don’t have a case of libel.

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