There is quite a bit of confusion about what constitutes defamation and how defamation is proven. Some people think they are being defamed when, in fact, they’re not. Unfortunately, we live in a rather impolite society in which people say and write terrible things about others. Not all such statements are defamation.
For example, if someone shares a negative opinion about you or your company, it is not defamatory. It is an opinion. When a truly defamatory statement has been published, however, it can ruin the reputation of an individual or business. This is why it is important to get a defamation lawyer involved quickly.
What Defamation Is and Is Not
The basis of any defamation is falsity. The victim must be able to prove the defamation was done with malice or reckless disregard for the truth. For a statement to be considered defamatory, the statement must be:
- If a statement is true, there can be no defamation.
- If there is a record of a statement, such as a recording of a radio or TV interview, defamation is easier to prove. On the other hand, defamatory statements during conversations and gossip are very difficult to prove unless you have corroborative evidence. If the plaintiff is a public figure, you also have to prove actual malice, which is a higher standard.
- Injurious to the plaintiff’s reputation. More than merely an insulting or offensive statement, defamation exposes an individual or business to hatred, ridicule, or contempt, or causes the victim to be shunned or injured in their business or trade.
- Privilege refers to the context in which the statement was made. For example, if an employer says in a private meeting that an employee is a thief, defamation has not occurred because this is a privileged setting. It does not matter if the statement is true or false. If the employer makes this claim during an open staff meeting, defamation could be argued based on the unprivileged setting.
Keep in mind that social media sites have tremendous power to allow defamatory statements to exist. Even if an individual or business complains about a false, defamatory statement, the social media site is not obligated to take the statement down because of the immunity they enjoy. Generally, the only option is to claim a breach of copyright.
Seeking Damages for Defamation in Pennsylvania
Publication in Pennsylvania goes directly to your reputation. For example, if someone says you have a horrible disease, committed sexual misconduct or some other criminal act, or accuses you of something damaging which is incompatible with your business, trade, or profession, those statements are assumed to be injurious and, as such, are defamatory.
In Pennsylvania, you are now required to show special damages in a defamation case. For example, did you have to see a professional to overcome emotional pain? You do not necessarily have to prove that your reputation was diminished because it is possible that people saw or heard a defamatory statement and did not believe it. However, this does not get the defendant off the hook because the victim could still have emotional damages, mental anguish, etc.
Any and all monies spent to expunge the defamation can be recovered by the victim, including punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to stop people from defaming an individual or business again. Even if you have not suffered economic loss and are not seeking compensatory damages, as the law currently stands in Pennsylvania, the jury can send a message to the defendant with punitive damages.
How a Defamation Attorney Can Help
Defamation festers, causing the victim’s reputation to deteriorate, sometimes rapidly. If you do not act quickly, the damage to an individual or business can be severe. Also, the court might use this as a reason to question the seriousness of your case. In other words, if the defamation was so bad, why didn’t you act immediately?
A skilled defamation lawyer can get a restraining order to take down a defamatory statement if the following conditions are met:
- You can show your case would succeed on merits because the statement is false.
- You will have irreparable harm to your reputation if the statement is not taken down.
- More harm would come to you than to the defendant if the statement is not removed.
The key is to move quickly with a skilled law firm that is experienced with defamation cases.
If you have been the victim of sexual harassment and/or retaliation, or you are not sure and need help, contact us today for a consultation.