False statements or lies told about a person to damage their reputation are actionable under the New York tort of defamation. Defamation occurs when a person makes a false statement about another person and harms their reputation by exposing them to ridicule, mocking, scorn, disgrace, shame, pity, contempt, or anger. Defamatory statements may cause such severe financial harm and loss of social standing that they have caused people to lose their businesses and reputations completely.
If you or someone you know is involved in a defamation case or needs to bring or defend a defamation suit please call the experienced and aggressive New York defamation lawyers at Tilem & Associates today for a free consultation.
The elements of defamation are as follows:
- Lies or falsehoods are told about the plaintiff.
- That the defendant has published those lies or falsehoods to a third party.
- Depending on whether the plaintiff is a public figure or not, the lies or falsehoods were made with malice, recklessness, gross negligence, or made with negligence, or even innocently.
- Special damages, except in the case of defamation per se.
The first question in evaluating a defamation claim is whether the defendant’s statements are defamatory. This is a legal question that must be first be resolved by the judge, then evaluated by the jury. In evaluating whether the plaintiff’s statement is defamatory the judge examines if the plaintiff claim reasonably can hold the meaning attribute to it by the plaintiff. If the judge agrees with the plaintiff, the jury evaluates the statement a second time. The jury decides whether an average or ordinary person would be likely to understand the statement.
The plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the harmful statements are false. By examining whether the defendant’s statement would have an effect different from a proposed statement by the plaintiff, courts test whether a statement is false. Subtle differences between the truth and falsehoods are not actionable under defamation.
The statement must also concern the plaintiff. Despite this rule, in some cases, the plaintiff does not need to be named in the statement. The theory of small group libel may support a claim of defamation against a party alleging that a small group, within which the plaintiff is a known member, may support a defamation claim. Likewise, defamation claims may lie against a person who has made false statements concerning things said by the plaintiff that harmed the plaintiff’s reputation. The current trend in defamation law is that falsity must be proven by a standard of clear and convincing evidence. Federal courts have predicted that New York will soon adopt this standard.
The legal meaning of publication is not the same as the commonplace meaning. In the law of defamation, publication means that the false statements made about the plaintiff must have been heard or read by a third party. If the plaintiff and defendant are the only two that hear, view, or read the defamatory false statement, that statement is not actionable. New York law holds that without a third person reading, listening to, or viewing defamatory statements that no damages from the statement can result, no matter how hurtful the statement may be. Statements made to a person’s spouse cannot be considered publications for purposes of defamation.
Copied publications, like copies of newspapers or other periodicals, do not subject the defendant to multiple defamation claims; however, the publisher may be liable for harms caused by other authors who read the publications.
If a statement by the defendant constitutes defamation per se the plaintiff does not need to establish special damages. Special damages present a remarkably high burden and are often exceedingly difficult to establish. Defamation per se includes statements that accuse the plaintiff of being a criminal, accuse the plaintiff of having an offensive disease, harm the plaintiff’s work interests or business, or accuse the plaintiff of homosexuality or unchastity.
In evaluating whether statements by a defendant constitute defamation per se courts examine a number of factors. First, the court looks at the sort of language that was spoken or written. Second, the court looks to the publication as a whole. Third, the court evaluates the facts and circumstances of the distribution of the publication. Finally, the court evaluates how each of those factors would impact the mind of an average person. Some statements may have such a severe impact on the reputation of the plaintiff that even though they do not fall within the typical categories of defamation per se such statements may still be defamatory per se. It is, therefore, imperative that an attorney evaluate your potential defamation claim.
If someone has defamed you, you must prosecute your rights and prevent further damage to your reputation. Call the experienced and aggressive New York defamation attorneys at Tilem & Associates today for a free consultation.