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How to Sue for Slander

Although everyone can enjoy their First Amendment right to free speech, there are certain exceptions to this right. Most defamatory statements are among those exceptions.

Slander is one form of defamation that does not enjoy First Amendment protection.

What Is Slander?

Slander occurs when someone speaks false and damaging statements about another person. Public officials and public figures often bring slander cases.

How Do I Prove Slander?

In a slander lawsuit, you have to prove the following:

  • Someone made a false, defamatory statement about you knowing it was a false statement
  • The statement does not fall in any privileged category
  • The person who published it acted negligently when they published the statement
  • You were harmed by the statement

Elements of Slander

In order to have a successful defamation lawsuit, you need to show the defendant made a defamatory statement that harmed your reputation. Let's look at all the elements in detail.

1. The Statement Needs to Be Defamatory

The restatement of torts defines defamatory statements as "communication that tends to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating with him."

Generally, if a statement attacks a person's reputation, then the statement might be slanderous. But courts will take a case-by-case approach to identify which statements qualify as defamatory and which ones are simply made in reckless disregard.

2. The Statement Needs to Be Published

Here, a third party must have heard or seen the defamatory statement. Note that published doesn't mean the statement was actually published. It just needs to be communicated to a third person. So a post on social media or even a loud conversation is enough to qualify.

Courts will typically consider a statement "published" if another person has heard or seen the statement and understands its meaning.

3. The Statement Needs to Be False

The statement must be false. So, even if a statement hurts someone's reputation, it won't be slander if it is actually true.

The statement should also be objectively false. This means someone's opinion like "this is the worst realtor I have ever encountered" will not be considered defamatory since it's impossible to prove its falsity.

4. The Statement Needs to Be Harmful

If you are suing for slander, you must show that the spoken statement has harmed you in some way. Some examples of how you can do that include showing:

  • You lost your job because of the statement
  • The press is harassing you
  • You have lost your reputation in your community or with your friends or family

5. The Statement Needs to Target You

Here, the third party who heard the defaming statement needs to know that the statement was referring to the plaintiff. The court uses the reasonable person standard to identify whether a third party could reasonably believe the statement is referring to the plaintiff.

6. The Statement Needs to Show Actual Malice (for Public Officials and Figures)

Because of the nature of the work they do, public officials and figures also need to show malice to win a defamation case. Actual malice means the person making the statement knows the statement was false or did not care enough to check.

This additional requirement came after the 1964 landmark Supreme Court decision New York Times v. SullivanThis case emphasized that the First Amendment freedom of speech protects certain defamatory statements. The Court stated that mistakes could be made in public discussions, especially regarding public figures. Thus, these mistakes should be protected if they are "honestly made."

7. The Statement Does Not Fall Under "Qualified Privilege."

For you to successfully bring a defamation action, you must show the statement is unprivileged. This means, in some situations, you will not be able to sue someone even if all the other elements are met. Privileged statements include:

  • Witnesses testifying in court
  • Legislators making statements during legislative debates
  • Statements made between spouses

How to File a Slander Lawsuit

Filing a slander lawsuit is very similar to filing other lawsuits. Generally, you will take the following steps when you file a slander lawsuit:

  • File a complaint: This is the document that starts the lawsuit.
  • Serve the complaint: After you file the complaint, you need to serve the defendant following the service rules of your state.
  • Perform discovery: After service is complete, you and the defendant will send each other questions that help with your case. You will also be required to show documents that help your claim.
  • Attend settlement negotiations: This is the point where you decide whether to settle the case or go to trial. Your attorney's advice will be very useful as they have ample experience on these issues. 

How Much Does It Cost to Sue for Slander?

Your lawyer may charge you on an hourly or on a flat fee basis. Some lawyers also charge on a contingency fee basis. All cases are unique, and attorney's fees will vary based on your specific case and the attorney's experience. 

How Difficult Is It to Sue for Slander?

Unlike libel, which is a written form of defamation, slander is spoken defamation, making it harder to prove. In addition, you must also show the person defaming you was at least negligent with the truth or falsity of the statement.

It is much harder for public officials and figures to sue for slander as they also need to prove actual malice in addition to the other elements. 

Additional Resources

Thinking of Suing for Slander? Call a Lawyer

If you believe you have been a victim of slander, then you can file a defamation suit and get special damages. But slander claims can be complicated and very detailed. An attorney experienced in defamation can help you with your legal issue and determine whether you can bring a defamation suit.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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