Challenges Associated with Suing for Defamation

Understanding Defamation

In basic terms, defamation means that something has been printed or said that hurts the reputation of a person or business. Defamation lawsuits can involve hundreds of thousands of dollars and in high-profile cases can go well into the millions. It is important to understand that any defamation is serious but bringing a defamation of character lawsuit is not without challenges.

The first thing one needs to know before taking action and filing a defamation of character lawsuit is understanding the terms involved. One must have suffered an injury to their reputation and/or finances through an intentional act of libel or slander.


Slander is an oral statement. Like a broadcaster saying over the air on television or radio, that John Doe had a terrible game because Mr. Doe (falsely) beat his wife last night. In this case the broadcaster may have potentially slandered Mr. Doe.


The results of libel are the same, however the statement is not oral but written. It can be online, in a newspaper, a magazine and so on. In either case it’s necessary to prove the statement was “published”.

Simply put, to prove defamation of character you must show that the false information was heard or read by one or more third parties. A third-party is anyone other than the speaker or writer of the injurious statement and the person the statement was about. A slanderous statement doesn’t necessarily have to be broadcast over airwaves. It can be in the form of a public speech or even a loud enough conversation that others could hear it. A libelous one, as stated above, can not only be in a newspaper or magazine, but also on a flyer, picket sign, leaflet, or a poster that is publicly displayed. Slander on the internet may also fall into one or both categories.

Next, one needs to prove the statement is untrue and this is usually done during the discovery phase of a lawsuit. This is why, from the example above, the broadcaster’s claim of a terrible game is NOT slanderous. Its is almost always the case that opinions are subjective and therefore almost impossible to establish objective veracity. But the false statement that Mr. Doe beat his wife last night, has potentially slandered Mr. Doe if the in fact Mr. Doe did not beat his wife.

It’s important to bear in mind that there are two exceptions to filing a defamation lawsuit. The first is simply a matter of time – if the statute of limitation to file a lawsuit has run out or expired, the suit won’t be able to proceed. Time frames differ from state to state so make sure you understand the time frame to file within your state. The other excepting is what are known in legal terms as “privileged statements” and essentially shields a speaker or author from facing defamation claims. This most commonly applies to witness statements in court.

To summarize

A person who wants to bring a lawsuit for defamation of character needs to be able to explain in detail what was said or published, when it was said or published, by whom it was said or publish and prove that it was false and caused damages and harm to the plaintiff. The plaintiff will need to provide proof of the statement via copies, recordings, emails, sworn witness statements and prove the statement was false when it was made. Finally, the plaintiff will need to prove an injury has occurred, like the loss of a job or the breakup of a marriage, or diminished reputation. As with any complicated legal proceeding, it is strongly recommended having a personal injury lawyer handle your case.