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Can I Sue for Libel in Small Claims Court?

Theoretically, you can sue for libel in small claims court in most states. But there are monetary limits on small claims that would make this an unusual choice.

Small claims courts, as the name implies, generally handle small disputes with limited monetary damages. Some states do not allow lawyers to appear in small claims court but libel cases are difficult to prove and probably will require an expert. So for this and other reasons small claims court is usually unsuitable for a libel claim.

What Is Defamation?

There are two types of defamation cases, libel and slander. These are claims that cover injury to reputation.

Libel is a false, written defamatory statement that is published and harms a person’s reputation. If someone says something about another that is true and harmful, it is not defamatory. Similarly, if someone says something that is false and harmful but does not publicize the statement, there is no libel claim as there is no defamation.

Slander is a spoken false defamatory statement that is published. In slander, publication refers simply to speaking, even if only to one other party. But for a statement to be slanderous, like libel, it must be false and publicized.

The three critical elements a plaintiff must prove in either type of defamation case then are as follows:

  1. The defendant made a false and defamatory statement about the plaintiff,
  2. The defendant publicized that statement to another party,
  3. The defendant’s publication was negligent, injuring plaintiff’s reputation.

Why Libel Small Claims Are Rare

To prove injury and monetary damages for a stain to one’s reputation is difficult. Small claims courts are usually reserved for simple, contractual disputes between consumers and merchants or service providers. Those are situations that can be resolved with the guidance of the court but do not require lawyers to represent the parties.

Defamation cases don’t usually fall into that category. But that is not to say there is never a time when it is appropriate to sue for libel at that level. It’s just extremely rare.

If you believe you have a defamation claim, speak to an attorney. Get expert help.

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