Defamation: Libel and Slander

Defamation is the publication of a false statement about another person, which tends to damage the reputation of that person or adversely affect his standing in the community.  The term “publication” in the context of defamation law means simply to communicate to a third person.  Within the broader definition of defamation are the specific causes of action known as libel and slander.  Libel involves defamatory statements published in a printed or fixed medium, such as a magazine or newspaper. Slander occurs when defamatory statements are published by a transitory or non-fixed representation, usually an oral (spoken) representation.

A statement is defamatory if it exposes a person to public hatred, contempt, ridicule, or tends to deprive the person of public confidence, or injures the person in his/her occupation.  However, there is general agreement that a communication is not defamatory if it is merely unflattering, annoying, irksome, or embarrassing, or simply hurts only the person’s feelings.

Recoverable damages can include compensation for loss of reputation, emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation, embarrassment, and financial losses flowing from the defamatory communication.

As a general rule, “truth” is nearly always a defense to a claim for defamation.  However, some courts have held that while the individual facts within a statement may be true, there can still be defamation when the “gist” or “sting” of the statement is false.

Another defense to a claim for defamation is “privilege”. Statements are privileged when they are made in court or in other public proceedings for legitimate purposes.  Simply quoting another may also make the statement privileged when appropriate attribution is given to the actual author.  For instance, a fair comment or abridgment of statements concerning a matter of public interest may not be defamatory.

In most jurisdictions, “opinions” are not actionable defamation. Whether a statement is viewed as an expression of fact or opinion depends upon the context in which it is published.  Some jurisdictions have eliminated the distinction between fact and opinion, and instead hold that any statement having an apparent factual basis may support a claim for defamation.

Should you file a defamation lawsuit?

Most people believe that his/her reputation is “priceless.”  In other words, we would not willingly permit our reputation to be ruined in exchange for any amount of money.   When we perceive that our reputation has been damaged or even ruined by the conduct or comments of another, one response is to threaten a law suit.  However, there are occasions when filing suit might be counterproductive.  The publicity resulting from a defamation lawsuit can sometimes give greater exposure to the false and defamatory statements than they previously enjoyed. If, for instance, the local media gives coverage to the lawsuit, false accusations that were previously known to only a small number of people may suddenly become well-known in your community or even to a wider audience.  We can help you make the decision on whether or not to file suit.

The U.S. Constitution rightly provides very wide protection to free speech.  If the defendant is a large media organization, it will generally have both the means and the willingness to use those means to vigorously defend against claims of defamation.  Consequently, defamation lawsuits against the media can be very expensive and time-consuming to prosecute.  However, Tulsa slander lawyer Doug Stall has prevailed in defamation lawsuits even against some of the largest media outlets.

If you have been the victim of defamatory speech, contact us for a free consultation about your problems.  Tulsa libel attorney Doug Stall has handled defamation cases against the media throughout Oklahoma and as far away as the State of Washington.  He has also helped clients on the east coast who were contemplating a lawsuit against the media.

To speak with a Tulsa defamation lawyer with The Stall Law Firm about defamation law or if you think you have a defamation law case, Contact Us at 918-743-6201.