What are Slander and Libel, and What do you Have to Prove?

Slander and libel are two separate forms of defamation.  Defamation is a false statement presented as factual that causes damage to a person’s character or reputation.  Hurting the reputation of someone else, with false statements, is also called defamation of character. If you feel that you have been defamed, you have the right to seek a legal remedy for the damage done to your reputation, and you may be awarded damages. 

So, what is the difference between slander and libel?

Slander

Slander is oral or spoken defamation. It is a form of defamation that occurs when someone talks to one or more people. 

Libel

Libel is written defamation, which is sent to someone else via paper or electronic communication.  Social media and email are common ways that libel causes defamation. 

What do you have to prove?

To prevail in a defamation claim, you must be able to show the following:

  • That someone made a statement 
  • That the statement was distributed, either orally or in written form
  • That the statement caused you to suffer an injury 
  • That the statement was false 
  • That the statement was not protected

Proving that you suffered an injury is often one of the most challenging parts of a defamation claim. You must be able to prove that you suffered damages such as losing a job, the inability to get a job, or being denied some other opportunity as a direct result of the defamation. 

Physical harm can result from defamation. If you need medical treatment to cope with stress, depression, or other conditions caused by the defamation of character, those are classified as physical damages, and you are entitled to full compensation. 

The statements made must have also been false. If they are true, the person making the statement has an absolute defense, and you will not have a claim for defamation. Protected statements include statements made at trial or during a deposition, even if they are defamatory because it is privileged information. 

Common questions

 

  • Someone made false statements about me online. Is that defamation? 
  • Yes, if someone used social media to spread false accusations about you and you suffered an injury because of the statement, that would be considered libel. You would have a cause of action against that individual if you decided to pursue a legal remedy. Electronic communications on Facebook, Twitter, and all other forms of social media, are considered the same as traditional forms of written communication. Even if the false information was distributed by private message, but it still caused provable damages, then libel was committed, and you may be entitled to damages. 
  • A coworker started a false rumor about me. The rumor eventually reached my boss, and I was fired from my job. Even though the coworker that started the rumor didn’t tell my boss directly, is that still slander?
  • Yes, that is slander. As long as the original statement was false and you can prove you suffered damages, you can sue the person who started the rumor. 
  • Can I sue someone for posting a negative opinion of my character?
  • No, the law prevents you from bringing suit against someone for expressing their opinion of you, no matter how unflattering. “I think Joe is stupid and that his clothes look dumb,” is an opinion and not defamation. “Joe is so stupid that he steals tools from work,” is defamation if it is untrue. 

 

However, just using a phrase like “I think,” or “I believe,” does not make a statement an opinion. “I think Joe steals tools from work,” can still be construed as defamation if the person knows the statement is false. 

What Sort of Damages are You Entitled to for Defamation in Florida?

If you can successfully prove defamation, either by libel or slander, you can recoup damages related to your actual monetary losses. In addition, you can win damages for mental anguish and emotional distress caused by the defamation. There can also be an award of punitive damages, depending on the actual motives behind the defamatory statements. 

How long do I have to file a claim?

Florida law provides a strict statute of limitations on defamation claims. According to Florida Statutes section 95.11, you have two years to file your claim. The clock starts running on the date that the defamatory statement was first made. 

Cyber defamation

Defamation that occurs on the internet is no different than any other form of oral or written communication. The internet has become the most likely place to experience defamation, and can include:

  • Online reviews
  • Forums
  • Yelp
  • Comments left on media articles
  • Blog posts and comments on blogs
  • Social media posts and comments
  • LinkedIn posts and comments
  • Twitter

All the legal aspects of proof remain the same when the internet is used to defame someone’s character. 

The damages slander and libel can cause

When someone spreads false information about you, it can be hurtful to you both personally and professionally. Given the rise of social media, when people can easily communicate with hundreds or thousands of others with a single post, defamation cases are on the rise. 

Untrue words can cause you to lose your job, your reputation, and harm your relationships with friends and family members. The psychological damage done by defamation can be extreme, especially in the era of the internet and social media. Defamation has caused suicide and attempted suicide, destroyed relationships, and pulled families apart. It is far too easy to do catastrophic damage to a person’s reputation with just a few words online. 

What are punitive damages? 

The reasons people commit defamation vary widely, but the reasons matter for punitive damages. If they defame you knowing the statement is untrue and was made for personal gain or retribution, you may be awarded punitive damages in addition to any other damages you are awarded. 

Punitive damages are considered punishment and are awarded at the court’s discretion. These damages are in addition to actual damages and happen when the defendant’s behavior is found to be deliberately harmful. The attorneys at the Lopez Law Group will help you determine the likelihood of receiving punitive damages, but remember, the court has the final word in what damages are awarded. 

Internet defamation and minors 

We have all heard the horror stories of how teenagers can treat each other online. Once something is posted, especially with malicious intent, it will be screenshot and spread to hundreds of different places quickly. Whether it is malicious content or pictures, the effects can be devastating for an adolescent. 

Anxiety, depression, and suicide are all very real risks for adolescents who are being harassed online. The psychological impact of having false rumors and malicious statements spread amongst their peers can do profound damage to an adolescent or child. Ignoring it will not make it go away, and your child needs you to act as an advocate for them. 

You have legal options if your child is the victim of internet defamation. Call us for a consultation about the steps you can take to help your child. 

What about nude or sexual pictures?

Pictures posted online in an effort to harm or embarrass someone are covered under a statute unrelated to libel or slander. In Florida, it is called revenge porn. In May 2015, Florida enacted The Sexual Cyberharrasment Act, making it a first-degree misdemeanor to willfully and maliciously post such content. If you have been victimized by revenge porn, you should first contact local law enforcement to investigate the crime. 

What should I do if I have been defamed?

Contact the Attorneys at The Lopez Law Group Today!

Defamation is a civil matter. If you have been defamed by someone and suffered an injury as a result, you can sue that person for defamation of character. Contact The Lopez Law Group for a free consultation to determine if your case meets the standard for libel or slander. 

If you have experienced libel or slander against you, it is important to document everything. If it was libel, make sure you have a copy of the writing which defamed your character. It is particularly vital that you screenshot it if it was something on the internet. Comments, social media posts, and blogs can all be removed by the person who made them, or the website itself. Having a screenshot will provide proof that the defamation occurred. If you have been the victim of slander, identify potential witnesses who heard what was said about you. 

We have handled numerous defamation of character cases, and we are ready to help you seek justice for the damage that has been done to you. Give the attorneys at The Lopez Law Group a call at 1-727-933-0015 a call. Our attorneys are standing by, ready to help you determine if you have a viable claim.