As you read this newspaper, you probably aren’t at all worried that you will turn a page and find an article written by your mother-in-law telling the world what a chump you are. And you’ve probably never worried that you’ll tune into a radio talk show and hear your neighbor accusing you of being insane.
But what if it did happen? Could you sue?
There are two legal terms for the way in which your good character may be harmed or defamed: Libel and slander.
The difference between the two is most important because you can sue someone for libel without having to prove that you suffered financial harm because of the libel. The law assumes that once your good reputation has been harmed by the libel, you deserve to be compensated with money.
In order to sue for slander, however, you must prove the slanderous comment has injured you financially.
There are some forms of slander which don’t require proof of monetary loss. They include imputing someone has committed a crime, has a loathsome disease or isn’t fit to practice their trade or profession.
A person who is accused of libel or defaming another may defend against the accusation by proving that the Statement was, in fact, true. Another valid defense is available in certain circumstances if the person responsible for the statement can prove that it was a fair comment.
In order to rely upon this defense, the comment must be based on an honest, not malicious, belief and true facts. Other defenses include various forms of privilege such as that available to witnesses testifying during a trial or members of parliament speaking in the House of Commons.
It you have been the victim of libel or slander, it is important that you give the person responsible proper notice that you intend to sue within six weeks of the publication or broadcast of the defamatory statement.
You must also properly start your suit within three months. Consult a lawyer who has expertise in libel and slander lawsuits before the time limits expire.