If you are subjected to untrue statements that can harm or damage your reputation, it is probable that you are being slandered. In this article, you’ll get to know answers to questions like what is slander and how to deal with it effectively.
Reputation determines the social standing of a person in society and is a reflection of an individual’s public relations. It is evident that people enjoying a good reputation are generally preferred for better jobs and leadership opportunities. A good reputation hasn’t hurt anyone, except for some competitors and faultfinders who leave no stone unturned to damage a person or company’s reputation over some faulty claims. This is exactly what slander is.
As one of the types of speech not protected by the First Amendment, slander is a form of defamatory statement for which you can sue the slanderer. Talking about legal regulations, laws concerning defamatory and slanderous statements have been around for a long time, with some even predating the American Revolution. Where the prevailing internet infusion into our lives has led to the invention of faster and better technologies, it has also soared defamatory and slander statements.
Slander and defamation claims are becoming more prevalent due to the extensive growth of the internet. People use the excuse of freedom of speech to slander others, not thinking about the drastic effects it can have on someone’s reputation. If you have also experienced such situations, you can claim slander in court, although it is difficult to prove in court. But first, you will need to have enough information about slander statements and the legal issues related to them.
Follow this article to learn all about slander, what it is and how to deal with it. We will also provide examples of slander and outline the difference between two types of defamatory statements, slander and libel so that you know exactly what to claim.
Table of Contents
What is slander?
Slander is a form of defamation that damages a person’s reputation by making an untrue statement about them. In general, the term slander refers to false and inaccurate statements made by one side against the other. Slander is communicated verbally with the intent to defame or disrepute the target individual or company. In short, slander is a legal term used to describe verbal defamation or the act of harming someone’s reputation by spreading rumors that can have degrading and humiliating effects.
There are many ways someone can make a slanderous statement, such as making an untrue statement on the radio and other broadcasts or spreading false rumors about someone in the workplace. Although it is difficult to provide evidence of such verbal defamations, claiming slander in court can save someone’s sinking reputation and livelihood.
Slander has significant value in the law. That’s why if you are being harmed due to someone bad-mouthing you, you are allowed by the law to slander them, as long as you prove the slanderer’s wrongdoings in the civil court. However, exceptions are made in case of some statements that are obviously harmful or grotesque in nature so they will always be considered slander. In such cases, you do not need proof when making a slander claim for a defamatory statement.
There are circumstances when the slanderer is unsure whether the statement they are making is true or not. In such situations, the victim can still claim slander on the grounds of ‘reckless disregard’ because the slanderer said something without considering the impact it might have on others, especially the victim.
While everyone is free to speak their minds, this freedom of speech is not absolute. Legal systems have set limits on what people can say, especially if they make untrue and false claims about someone. Opinionated statements are not considered slander. A statement is considered slander when it is presented as a fact and not an opinion.
The legal matters regarding defamation and slander come under tort law, which is the branch of law that deals with civil issues and aims to address wrongdoing against parties and may award them with monetary compensation. In this regard, anyone who is the subject of slanderous statements is allowed to present their case in civil court, and those who are found guilty of committing slander could be ordered to pay compensatory charges to the victim.
Is slander illegal?
Since slander can result in legal action being taken against the slanderer, so yes, slander is illegal. It is unlawful to intentionally make false and untrue statements about someone and cause them harm. A slanderer may be taken to court if their words have caused reputational damage or financial loss to the subject of statements.
In some states like the UK, slander is not considered a criminal offense. However, it is considered a civil wrong (tort). In any situation, a slanderer is held accountable for their actions, and the person or company who has been subjected to slander has the right to take legal action against them and gain compensation for any losses.
Slander is one of the charges that are difficult to prove in court. The complainant must be able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that slanderous statements were made to the third party and that they were made with malice. Another thing that the victims must prove is that the slanderer believed they were conveying a fact, not just an opinion. As mentioned before as well, opinionated statements do not fall under the category of slander. Slander only includes statements that were delivered as facts.
When it comes to proving slander, public figures have a harder time doing so than private individuals. The latter don’t often make themselves available to the public, so it is a violation of privacy when defamatory statements are made. It is easier to bring a claim to court when slanderous statements were made about a private individual.
Regarding public figures, such people have more of a public-facing life. Since their lives are open to the public to a certain extent, there are a lot of opinions and gossip about them. So when slander lawsuits are filed by a public figure, they must prove clearly and effectively that the slanderer acted with reckless disregard and actual malice.
As for the laws, different states have different defamation laws. But if you want to successfully claim slander in court, you need to meet some criteria in order to win the case and receive the monetary settlement. Following are the four criteria that must be met in order to prove a slanderous statement.
False and untrue statements
Obviously, a statement is to be considered slanderous if and only if it is false. You have the right to take legal action against false and untrue statements. But if the statement is simply mean and subjective but true in nature, then it is not against the law. That means, if someone portrays some truth about you in a way that hurts you, it does not come under the definition of slander. Sometimes, we confuse every negative comment about us with slander and defamation. However, not all negative rumors are defamation.
And it’s also not slander if it is a statement of opinion. Opinionated statements are not precisely facts or necessarily untrue. Even if opinions are negative and hurtful, they still don’t qualify as slander since slander includes incorrect facts rather than opinions.
A good example here is the movie reviews. If a film critic states that a particular film was “not up to the mark and lacked creativity, ” this is more like a subjective statement that doesn’t qualify as slander in court.
If we were to sue people for simply making disagreeable statements that are even true, our entire judicial system would be packed with such lawsuits, leaving no time for the more serious matters. Although people are allowed to have opinions and make subjective statements, they shouldn’t just do it in a manner that is hurtful towards the people that are the subject of their words.
People have a right to free speech, but that is not without limits. When someone says something that is not true about you, they step beyond the bounds of their right to free speech, and you can sue them in civil court.
Statements seen or heard by someone
For a statement to qualify as slander, it must be published. This means that someone, or any third party besides the slanderer and the victim, must have seen it, heard it, or read it, and thought differently because of the slanderous statements.
Since slander is a non-tangible form of defamation and has a lesser lasting impact, it is therefore much more challenging to prove that such statements were even made in front of any third party. Slanderous claims that were made on radio or live broadcasts on television in front of a larger audience are taken more seriously by the courts.
It is obvious if the statements were made only between the accused and the complaining parties, with no evidence of a third party hearing or seeing them, the court might not provide the expected ruling due to lack of evidence.
Statements causing reputational damage and financial injury
Most of the time, people who are being slandered are just angry and there is no actual harm done to their reputation. Slander does not qualify in situations where the victim has suffered no damage, whether reputational, financial, or health-related.
It is clear that slandering statements result in reputational damage to the individual or organization that is the subject of such information. However, the cases that provide evidence of financial injuries and quantifiable damages as well are more strong. This means that the slander has caused you to lose money, including personal finances, business losses, or property damages. When you prove such losses, you are moving towards a strong slander case.
A statement has to be unprivileged by law in order to qualify as slander in court. This means that statements that are privileged by the law cannot be claimed as slander. There are certain types of statements protected by the First Amendment against which you cannot press charges because doing so would violate the Freedom of Speech. There are two types of statements that are privileged by the law.
These are the statements that are protected by law even if they have malicious intent. Examples of absolute privilege statements include statements made while testifying in court or a session of the legislature.
These are the statements that are made in circumstances when facts will better serve the public interest. Such statements are not maliciously made. For example, journalists reporting the tax corruption of a particular organization can do so as long as it is for the greater good and objectively true, even if it causes reputational damage or financial injury to that organization.
Slander vs. libel
People often get confused between the two terms; slander and libel. Although both are types of defamation, there are some key differences between libel and slander. As mentioned earlier, slander is a type of verbal defamation. That’s why it is considered temporary defamation since it involves only speech rather than being written or published. For example, if someone said in an interview that a certain individual is a drug abuser, it is slander if it is not true.
Meanwhile, libel is printed or broadcast on live television, radio, or online. Although broadcast is a form of verbal statement, it is still considered libel because it reaches a large audience just as written words do. This makes it a more permanent form of defamatory statements.
Defamatory statements need to be properly published in order to be considered libelous. In this context, statements made on a blog post or website that have very little traffic can also be considered libelous. When posted online, the offensive statements need to be read by at least one individual in order to qualify as libelous statements.
Examples of slander
What better way to explain details of the law than to put it into a familiar context. Here’s a real-world example of slander for a more thorough understanding. The Friends actor David Schwimmer filed a lawsuit in 2004 against a fundraiser who accused him of making enormous demands before appearing at a fundraising event in 1997.
The legal action was taken against Aaron Tonken who, according to David, publicly stated that David asked for two Rolex watches as compensation for the time he devoted to Aaron’s fundraiser event. The ‘Friends’ actor claimed that the statements were mere allegations and that they ruined his reputation. The lawsuit was settled in 2006, and David was awarded $400,000 as compensational charges.
Apart from that, have a look at some general examples of slander.
- When someone falsely accuses a teacher or lecturer of possessing fake or incomplete qualifications resulting in them losing their job.
- When a fashion brand claims that the rival brand is using unethical ways and faulty material to produce their goods, as a result, the victim brand loses a huge chunk of its customers as well as suffers reputational damages.
- When a sports person makes a false statement in an interview about a fellow athlete taking performance-enhancing drugs, as a result, the victim loses their sponsors and has been pulled out of races while under investigation.
How to deal with slander?
Now that you know what slander is and what you will need to prove it in court, it’s now time to turn from theory to practicality. When experiencing slander, you need an appropriate action plan that can help you in dealing with slander, and the following pointers can help you with that.
This is very important. Instead of replying to slanderous statements with anger or making instant decisions, walk away from the situation for some time, preferably a day or two, and make sure you are calm and relaxed before continuing. Lawsuits can be expensive, so before filing one, it is best to take some time to relax and reflect on the situation and whether you actually have a case or it’s just the momentary anger that is worrying you.
Contact your lawyer
When you have relaxed and finally decided to file a lawsuit against the slanderer, it is time to call your lawyer. If you don’t already have one, find a lawyer who specializes in handling defamation, libel, and slander cases. Personal injury lawyers are often likely to do this kind of work. You will have to provide some details to your lawyer. This includes every evidence and list of witnesses and third parties in front of whom the slanderous statements were made.
First of all, your lawyer will likely write a letter to the slanderer and insist that the slander cease and stop. An apology can be requested from the accused but if they refuse to comply, the attorney can take legal action on your behalf and take further steps to start rectifying the situation from a legal standpoint.
Seek advice from a reputation management expert
In some cases, you will need to stop the verbal defamatory statements against you from reaching a larger number of people and bury them under so much positive news about you that people forget all about that slander against you. For this purpose, you may need the assistance of a reputation management expert. There are a number of services available over the internet that specialize in creating new and positive content about you and taking other steps to control your reputation.
But if your reputation is still at risk and you are starting to bear financial losses because of your bad reputation, you must consult a reputation management expert right away. Such experts can also assist your attorney in finding all the relevant evidence material to win the slander lawsuit and save that sinking reputation of yours.
What happens after winning a slander lawsuit?
You have won your lawsuit against your slanderer, so what next? Will you be able to regain that lost reputation? Such questions are in everyone’s minds while filing a lawsuit. The answer lies in the remedies available to the victim after a successful slander claim. Following are the options available to the victorious complainant.
Receive compensatory and exemplary damages
One way to compensate for your loss due to slanderous statements is to receive compensatory and exemplary damages. Compensatory damages come in the form of money offered to the victim to settle up with the loss. Exemplary damages, on the other hand, are in the form of punishment to deter the slanderer from conducting similar behavior in the future.
These are the actions that can be taken before, during, or after the trial. They prevent the slanderer from publishing or making any further slanderous statements. Injunctions put a full stop to the defamatory statements that can ruin one’s reputation in society.
When defendants are aware and ashamed of their mistakes, they can offer a sufficient apology to the victim and also offer to make amendments in order to cut down the effects of the slander. However, the amends must be in writing, not just verbal, and must also include a published statement correcting the slander.
Order to cease the spreading of slander
Through this remedy, the court may order to cease the slander from spreading further. For example, if the slander was made during an interview, the court can order to stop the interview from being published or broadcasted, and even delete the interview records as if they never existed.
Freedom of speech is everyone’s lawful right. But just because people are given such rights by the law, it doesn’t mean anyone can go about saying anything they like, especially if their statements are causing someone harm. The law doesn’t allow anyone to make false statements about someone intentionally. And if someone does, they can be accused of slander and taken to court for making wrong assumptions and spreading false rumors.
Through this article, we have explained in detail some examples of slander, how it differs from other defamatory statements like libel and what you can do if you experience slander. This guide can help you in understanding whether your slander has a case and how to prove it in court.