Articles Tagged with Defamation

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social-media.jpg A person may be a victim of defamation when another person has said something false about her. Defamation is a generic term for libel (a defamatory statement that is written) and slander (a defamatory statement which is spoken). The statement cannot be a joke or an expression of opinion; it must be something that is capable of being proven true or false, and which is actually false. Further, the statement must actually be harmful to the victim’s reputation or have caused monetary losses. In most cases, the victim must be able to identify and quantify her actual damages, hurt feelings are often insufficient.

In order to be considered defamation, one person or entity must make false factual statements about another and communicate (or “publish”) those statements to a third party. The statement cannot be a joke or an expression of opinion; it must be something that is capable of being proven true or false, and it must actually be false. When the statement involves public figures or issues of public concern – such as with political candidates – in order to protect the open debate and discussion regarding these public figures, there must also be some malicious intent and affirmative knowledge that the statement is false.
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Just about everyone has been called a name or had someone say something about them that wasn’t true, but when does that false statement become actionable defamation?

Under the law in New Jersey, defamation requires at least three people. It occurs when someone (“A”) makes a specific factual assertion about another (“B”) to a third person (“C”). The statement cannot be a joke or an expression of opinion; it must be something that is capable of being proven true or false, and which is actually false.

To establish a claim for defamation, B must show that A made an untrue statement of fact to C, that this statement included assertions that were “defamatory,” meaning they were negative and harmful to B’s reputation or caused monetary losses, and that A made this statement either knowing it was false, or while failing to exercise care in determining whether it was true or false. In some cases, B must also show and prove that she had incurred actual damages.

Therefore first, the statement must be “published,” i.e. made to a third party. Although it need not be publicized for the world to read in Time Magazine or hear on the six o’clock news, someone else must hear or read it. (If the third person reads the defamatory statement, the defamation is called “libel,” if she hears it, it’s called “slander.) Thus, A calling B a derogatory term or making a false statement of fact directly to B, is not defamation, because no third party heard it.

Next, the statement must be false. Even if harmful to a person’s reputation, a statement that is true is absolutely immune from a defamation claim by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution which protects free speech. Therefore, “truth” is a nearly unbeatable defense to a defamation claim.
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