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If you've ever heard about someone making false accusations, chances are you've also heard about the resulting lawsuits. Some of them claim slander, others libel, and a few just say defamation. And then there are the ones that use all three terms.
It may seem like these lawsuits are all alleging the same exact thing, and to some extent, they are. But there is a difference between slander, libel and defamation, and it's a good difference to know.
Defamation is actually an overarching term. It describes the legal cause of action that results when the defendant has improperly disseminated a false statement about the plaintiff that harmed his or her reputation.
As for the difference between slander and libel, the two are actually just different types of defamation. Slander occurs when the false statements are spoken, while libel occurs when they are written or printed. Defamation that occurs on the radio or television is often considered libel, as it is permanently captured.
This distinction can be an important one. Historically, libel has been considered the worse of the two, presumably because it's much more difficult to make printed falsities disappear. As such, when a person libels you, you only have to prove that you were defamed in some printed form.
On the other hand, to win a successful slander lawsuit, you generally must prove special damages. In addition to the basic elements, you must demonstrate that you suffered an actual economic or monetary loss as the direct result of the defamatory statement.
This slight difference between slander and libel can determine just how difficult a lawsuit will be to win. It's simply much easier to sue someone for libel than it is slander. You have less things to prove.