Though it’s not something most people encounter on a regular basis (thankfully), the fact is defamation does occur and may even be occurring with more regularity given the rise of the Internet. The perceived anonymity of the online world has led some people to make vile and untruthful statements about others, which can result in a defamation lawsuit.
What is defamation?
Defamation exists when a person’s reputation has been harmed and is defined as the making of false statements, either oral or written, about another person. There are two types of defamation in Tennessee: libel and slander.
Libel covers any form of defamation that is written. This includes newspaper articles, letters and even online comments. It’s important to note that you cannot simply sue someone for libel because they have said something annoying, embarrassing or offensive about you. Instead, the legal test for libel is if the statement holds you up to public ridicule.
To prove libel the injured party (the plaintiff), has to prove that the defendant either knew the statement was false or that he or she failed to take the proper steps to determine whether it was true. A defendant can respond by proving that the statement made was true.
The exception to this is if the plaintiff is a public figure. It can be tricky to determine who qualifies as a public figure. Politicians or famous actors definitely do, but suffice it to say that public figures have a much more difficult time proving a defamation case.
Slander is almost exactly like libel except that it covers those defamatory statements that are spoken rather than written.