Defamation

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Defamation can happen to any business or to its owners, employees, or contractors.  Defamation occurs when someone makes a false statement which harms the reputation of another party.  True statements which cause harm to someone’s reputation do not constitute defamation.  Defamation falls into two main categories, libel and slander.  Libel is defamation in written or printed form while slander is fleeting, usually verbal.  A newspaper article could be considered libel while a speech or sign language could be considered slander.

Like all areas of law, there are available to defenses for defamation.  The most notable is speaking the truth.  By definition, defamation must occur when someone speaks falsely to a third party about another party.  If the truth is damaging to a company’s reputation there is no way to obtain legal relief through a defamation lawsuit.  Sometimes a good faith belief the offensive statements are true is enough to escape liability for defamation.  A defamation lawsuit will also fail if the objected speech was presented as an expression of opinion instead of an assertion of fact.  Even if defaming speech is proven, if no actual injury occurred than a court will grant no damages.  For example, if false statements are made regarding the Apple iPhone, but sales for the phone do not change, it is unlikely Apple would be awarded any damages in court.

There is an important defamation exception for individuals.  If an individual is a public figure it is much harder for them to win a defamation suit.  Public figures include public officials and anyone who thrust themselves into the public spotlight.  A public figure will only win a defamation suit if the false statements made about them where made with malice.

There four categories of slander that are actionable per se (automatically).  They are accusing someone of a crime, alleging that someone has a foul or loathsome disease, adversely reflecting on a person’s fitness to conduct their business or trade, and imputing serious sexual misconduct. Here, the plaintiff need only prove that someone had published the statement to any third party; no proof of special damages is required.

Federal law does not provide criminal charges for defamation.  Likewise, New Jersey also does not have criminal penalties but a few other states do.  If you feel that you or your business have been defamed it is important to contact an attorney.  It is not easy for plaintiffs to succeed in defamation cases in the United States so it is important to consult an attorney.  Contact Stone Law at 732-444-6303 or leave us a message on our website if you want to initiate a defamation suit or have been sued yourself.