When to Sue for Defamation, Slander, and Libel


If you wake up to find that someone has said something harmful and untrue about you, it’s easy to freak out. No one likes to find these statements on the Internet, see them on television or hear about them in your industry. Defamation, which can come in the form of libel or slander, can happen in a range of contexts. It might be a former spouse looking to get back at you after an ugly divorce. It might be a competitor in your industry looking to knock down your business. Maybe a journalist has wrongfully identified you as a criminal for no good reason. Whatever the case may be, you may think about suing. When should you do so? Here are some signs that you should consider a lawsuit.

When the words written about you are untrue
Lawyers will tell you that the truth is an affirmative and absolute defense to defamation claims. What this means is that if you’re going to have a cognizable claim, you need to be able to show that the words were not true. A person publishing or saying something bad about you does not rise to the level of libel or slander if those words are true. However unflattering they may be, words are not legally actionable if they’re buoyed by truth.

If you suffer harm
Another element in any defamation claim is some form of harm. A person saying something bad and untrue about you may hurt, but can you show that you suffered because of it? There are quite a few ways in which you might suffer harm as a result. For instance, if you lost business or a job opportunity on account of the defamation, then you may have a solid claim. A general loss of reputation may be enough to justify a claim, but you will be in much better position if you can show some legitimate evidence of harm. You’ll be in even better position if that evidence includes some finding of financial harm.

When the party that defames you has deep pockets
Good lawyers will tell you that every lawsuit has to have a practical component to it. While suing for damages can make you feel better, it makes little sense to go through the trouble and expense of a lawsuit if you’re unlikely to collect on a judgement. You should sue for defamation if and when the person who defames you has deep pockets. This works especially well if a business has defamed you or if something harmful has been published in a newspaper. The best lawsuits offer plaintiffs the chance to be made whole through a serious financial windfall. You’ll only achieve this if you take on the right defendant.