Defamation is a serious legal issue that can have severe consequences for one’s personal and professional life. For professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, business owners or anyone with a public presence, false statements can harm their reputation, livelihood and future employment or business prospects.
But when should a professional consider taking legal action against defamation? These are the key factors that determine when it’s appropriate for a professional to sue for defamation.
The basics of defamation
Defamation typically comes in two forms: libel, which includes defamatory statements that are in written or printed form, including social media posts, articles or any other published materials, and slander, which involves defamatory statements that are spoken, such as rumors or false accusations spread through conversations.
It’s not enough to merely prove that someone said or wrote something unflattering or damaging about someone else for a successful defamation suit. The aggrieved party must also prove the following:
- The statement in question must be false and presented as a fact. Truth is generally considered a defense against defamation claims, and statements that are merely opinions are not considered actionable.
- The statement was published: This means that the false statement must have been communicated to a third party in some way.
- The falsehood caused actual injury: The false statement must have caused actual harm to the professional’s reputation or financial losses for the case to be viable.
- The statement was unprivileged: This means that the defamatory statements were made in a specific context that’s protected, such as the statements made by witnesses during a judicial proceeding.
When to consider a lawsuit
There have been some high-profile defamation lawsuits in recent years, especially among celebrities – but someone doesn’t have to be a celebrity to take reputational damage seriously. Anyone should consider a defamation lawsuit when false statements have significantly harmed their standing in either their professional or social circles. The fallout from allegations of things like fraud, spousal abuse, embezzlement or malpractice can be immense, especially in the “court of public opinion.” Sometimes, a lawsuit is the only way to expose falsehoods and regain one’s rightful standing.