Words can be powerful, and in some cases, they can be powerfully damaging. False statements made by another person or organization can cause irreparable harm to your livelihood or your reputation. The area of the law that deals with such matters is called defamation, and it encompasses both slander (when defamatory claims are spoken) and libel (when defamatory claims are printed).
We also frequently represent clients falsely accused of defamation, seeking early dismissal of claims to limit cost and distress. If you are falsely accused of defamation, court remedies in California may include an anti-SLAPP motion and early dismissal of the lawsuit, with attorney fees reimbursed by the party who sued you.
Defamation in California
It is important to understand that just because somebody says or writes something you find to be hurtful, that does not automatically qualify it as defamation. For something to be defamatory, some key requirements must be met:
- Generally speaking, a statement must be false for it to qualify as defamation;
- The statement must be made by any person other than the victim, to someone other than the victim;
- The statement must not be privileged (for example, made during a court proceeding, or to one’s own lawyer);
- The statement must have caused damage in some form.
Defamation Per Se vs. Defamation Per Quod
In California, there are two categories of actionable defamation claims—defamation per se and defamation per quod.
- In defamation per se, damages against the individual are presumed;
- In defamation per quod, damages (monetary and general) must actually be proven.
Special considerations apply to defamation claims against public figures. For a person in the public spotlight about whom statements are frequently made, a defamation lawsuit must allege and prove that the defamatory statement was made with malicious intent. This requires a heavier burden for a plaintiff to bear at trial, and should be discussed as part of evaluating your defamation case.
In a defamation suit, the aggrieved party may be awarded three different types of damages:
- General damages, which are damages for the aggrieved party’s loss of reputation, shame, mortification, and hurt feelings;
- Special damages, which are damages to the aggrieved party’s property, trade, profession or occupation;
- Exemplary damages, which are damages awarded in the discretion of the court or the jury, to be recovered in addition to general and special damages, and to be awarded for the sake of example and by way of punishing a defendant who has made the publication or broadcast with actual malice. (These are more commonly known as punitive damages).
Defense Against Defamation
To avoid liability, an individual being sued for defamation can raise defenses that include:
- Proving that the statement is true;
- Showing that no damage has been done;
- Showing that the individual had consent from the aggrieved party;
- Proving a claim of impunity or privilege.
Dhillon Law Group frequently provides effective legal defense for those whose First Amendment rights are being challenged by false allegations of defamation.
Defamation Attorneys in California
At Dhillon Law Group, we understand the nuances of defamation cases, and have successfully pursued damages for false statements made about our clients, and defended against frivolous defamation suits filed against our clients. These disputes can often be resolved before filing a lawsuit, and it is our aim to assist clients in reaching a satisfactory resolution to their case as quickly as possible. We also advise on whether a defamation claim will be subject to an anti-SLAPP motion, which is common and should be assessed at the outset of any defamation case.
Legal Advice on Defamation
As a law firm committed to free speech practices, Dhillon Law Group is proud to represent Californians in cases involving defamation. We are happy to offer a consultation on your defamation case, and to develop the most effective legal strategy for upholding your rights and seeing justice served, if we take on your case. Reach out to Dhillon Law Group to learn more about our defamation practice.