Life is full of annoying unavoidable things. Traffic lights, long lines, and worst of all, rude people. Everyone has to deal with an angry or unpleasant person at some point. But when does their smack talk become defamation?
It's understandably a nebulous concept to most people. The general reaction when one becomes the target of disparaging remarks typically isn't, "Man, I'm going to sue." Rather, it's usually more along the lines of, "What a jerk."
However, you'd be surprise what is and isn't considered defamation in the eyes of the law.
Defamation actually covers both spoken and written statements. Oral defamation is called "slander." If it's in writing, than it's called "libel."
In addition, anyone can be defamed regardless of the person's status. It's not just a cause of action available to the rich and famous. Regular Joes can sue for defamation, too.
However, to understand why this is so, it's important to define defamation first.
Defamation is any statement made by someone that hurts another person's reputation. It's not a crime to defame someone, but victims can sue in civil court for it.
Defamation is proven by showing five elements: a statement was made about you, the statement was false, the statement was published, the statement harmed your reputation, and no privilege or defense exists for it.
While the first and second elements are pretty self-explanatory, the rest can be a little tricky.
Publication of a statement can be done in any way where it can be heard or read by a third party. This means in addition to things like books, films, and newspapers, publication can also be as simple as a statement being told to someone else.
Reputation harm is what it sounds like. Typical examples are statements that falsely indicate a person is immoral or a criminal. But it can be pretty much anything that causes others to incorrectly view a person poorly.
So the next time someone runs their mouth off at you. Pay attention to see when or if their talk becomes defamation. And if you're still unsure, don't be shy to seek out the proper help.