How To Know: Were You Merely Insulted, Or Could You Have A Libel Or Slander Case?

If someone says something objectionable about you, do you have the right to sue them? The answer, as in many cases regarding the law, varies according to the particular circumstances.

Generally, if someone makes false statements (libel or slander) about you that cause you harm, you can take action under the realm of personal injury law. It falls under this type of law because your personal reputation has been injured. Libel usually refers to printed statements, and slander involves spoken words. These statements can include accusations that you were involved in a serious crime, that reflect negatively on your character or expose you to ridicule, or that impair your financial well-being.

The following questions can help determine whether you have a personal injury case:

Was the statement untrue?

If a statement is true, it's protected speech under most circumstances. So if your former friend tells all your coworkers and neighbors that you've been arrested for stealing—and that's actually true—you wouldn't be able to bring successful legal action, even if you've been harmed as a result of his or her statements.

On the other hand, if your neighbor is lying about you, you may have a personal injury case. Your reputation may suffer as a result of the false statements about you.

Did you suffer damages?

You'll need to be able to prove that you were harmed by the statements made about you. This can include emotional harm as well as monetary damage.

For example, you may have lost your job as a result of false statements about you. Or if you own your own business, you may have lost customers as a result of the defamatory statements. So if someone falsely spreads rumors that your restaurant has failed health inspections, you may be able to prove that you've lost customers—and money—as a result.

Are you a public figure?

The standard for proving libel or slander can be higher if you're a public figure. You'll have to prove that not only were the statements false, but they were made with malice. This means that the person making the statement either knew it was false or said or printed it with reckless disregard to the truth.

Public figures don't just include politicians and celebrities. They can be people who have been thrust into the news by, for example, being accused of a crime, or someone who has been publicly advocating for a particular issue.

Was the statement a matter of opinion?

A person is entitled to express his or her opinion. If someone calls you a jerk, you may feel insulted, but it's not an illegal statement. However, a person can't evade a claim of libel or slander simply by claiming that his or her statement is an opinion or by saying, "I think Harry was arrested for murder in another state" if they know this isn't so and that people will interpret the statement as fact.

If you think you may have been harmed as a result of libel or slander, contact a personal injury attorney, such as one from Salerno Terrence Law Office. He or she can advise you on the merits of potential legal action.