How Do You Prove a Defamation of Character Claim?

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Defamation of character is a term that is used to describe when a false statement is written or spoken about an individual with the intent of harming their reputation. Unfortunately, defamation of character claims are extremely difficult to prove in the court of law despite the fact that they are illegal. However, any lawyer will tell you that as long as the truth is on your side, anything is possible.

 

Slander and Libel

There are two different types of defamation of character. The first is slander, which is when someone verbally states a false claim about you. The second is when someone writes down or publishes a false statement about you. This is referred to as libel.

 

What Do You Have To Prove?

There are two things you have to prove to be true in order to win a case of defamation of character in the court of law. First of all, you have to prove without a doubt that what was said or written about you is not true. Once you have proved that the statement is, in fact, false you have to prove that the other person said the false statement with the intent of causing you some form of harm.

 

The Final Step

After proving the statement made against you was false, you must prove the statement caused some form of damage to you or your reputation. Most lawyers will tell you this is the most difficult part of the process.

First, understand that there is a clear difference between:

  1. A statement having the potential to cause you problems.
  2. A statement actually causing you problems.

It is only considered defamation of character if the statement has actually caused you harm, not just if it has the potential to cause you harm.

In order to win the claim, you are going to need to prove that the false statement has ruined your reputation. If you are a business owner, for example, you would need to prove how the statement has had a devastating impact on your business (i.e. significant loss of revenue). Unfortunately, this means you must wait for the false statement to cause problems in order for the court to take action against them.

 

A Public Example of Defamation of Character

In 2017, actress Rebel Wilson was in a very public defamation of character case after the release of the hit movie she co-starred in, Pitch Perfect 2. A media company published several articles about her stating that she was “a serial liar” and “fabricated almost every aspect of her life.” Bauer Media continued to accuse her of lying about her “age, upbringing and the origin of her name,” according to The Washington Post.

Because of the blatant dishonesty of these statements, Wilson was able to easily prove they were untrue. However, proving Bauer Media had the intention of causing her harm, as well as proving that they actually did cause her harm was less black and white.

Wilson stated that the false and negative claims not only hurt her reputation but caused her to be overlooked for acting roles and therefore, caused her to lose money. After uncovering the source of the false information, it was brought to the court’s attention that the source was paid and had a grudge against Wilson. It was also discovered that the claims were intentionally published around the same time Pitch Perfect 2 was released to attract timely attention.

In the end, Wilson was awarded more than $3 million in damages. On the day of the verdict, she Tweeted, “Today was the end of a long and hard court battle against Bauer Media who viciously tried to take me down with a series of false articles.”

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