Defamation and Personal Injury: When Words Lead to Harm

You’ve heard people talk badly about businesses and people before, and you may even have joined in (or started the conversation). It’s a normal part of human nature to share a bad experience with someone else and look for validation. But many of us don’t realize that our verbal or written words have consequences, and those effects can be considered defamation.

This result sadly only becomes apparent when it happens to you. If you’ve had damage to your professional or personal reputation due to someone else’s defamatory material, you’ve seen the dangerous results. You may feel helpless, but legally, you could have grounds for a personal injury claim.

According to the legal definition, a personal injury lawyer in Provo, Utah, and elsewhere can file a case for an individual when defamatory material causes their client to be shamed, shunned, avoided, or damages their professional or personal life. Here, we’ll discuss what a defamation case looks like and how to know if yours could stand up to legal scrutiny.

Understanding Grounds for Defamation

You may have run across statements on social media from people complaining of bad service at a business and others commiserating with the original poster. We’ve gotten so used to venting our frustrations on our favorite platforms that we often forget the damage it can do to those who own the business. Instead of turning to the owner or manager for resolution, we immediately lash out and attempt to harm their reputations.

But when the damage is severe and based on false or unnecessary claims, this problem can backfire on the complainer. The business or person whose reputation is harmed may file a lawsuit for defamation of character.

These claims are built on four factors. The plaintiff must show:

● A false statement claiming to be factual exists,
● Said statement was communicated to a third person (either verbally or through a publication),
● Fault occurred amounting to negligence as a result of the claim, and
● Harm or damages occurred to the reputation of the subject of the claim.

Proving defamation can be tricky in the United States, where the Constitutional First Amendment provides us with freedom of speech. As the plaintiff and attorney develop a watertight case showing harm due to intended defamation, they must consider the potential defenses that could be used against them.

Common Defenses Against Defamation

Working backward from the most common arguments a defendant may use to absolve themselves of responsibility, one can determine whether they have a case that would likely be successful.

Consider these three typically used defenses, and talk to your attorney about the likelihood of the opposing side’s argument’s success:

● Truth. If the person’s claim can be proven to be true, they are not slandering your name. For instance, a previous customer witnessed an altercation between you and another consumer in which you yelled at them and called them inappropriate names. The witness shared this on social media, and, as a result, you can prove you lost business. But the victim can testify that you did, in fact, yell at them; therefore, the OP was not lying. This factor is the most critical part of a defamation suit.

● Consent. The person making the claim of defamation must not have agreed (consented) to public knowledge of it. Taking the previous example, instead of posting it on social media, the witness wrote a letter to you advising you to apologize for the events in question. In response, you shared the letter with others, and it leaked out, causing a lack of business. An argument could be made that you consented to make the information known by sharing it.

● Privilege. This is the defense that claims a defamatory claim is privileged and in the common interest of those involved. Information about staff, such as what occurs when one employee discusses the actions of another with management, must be candid and honest. Such information, depending on what it is and the results, could fall into slander or could be protected.

The final but essential defense to any claim is always the Statute of Limitations. The legal timeframe in which a plaintiff must file a defamation claim is key, but there are nuances, such as knowledge of the statement. Your attorney can discuss these dates with you to determine if your claim is within the statute of limitations and answer any questions about whether you have a legitimate defamation claim.