If you’ve ever thought about slander, you probably think of celebrities in the limelight. You might think of tabloids, press conferences, and talk shows, but slander is not at all exclusive to the rich and famous. Misconceptions like these surround the terms of slander, libel, and defamation of character. And while each term is closely related (more on that later), we’re going to focus specifically on unpacking the civil crime of slander: what exactly it is, how it is proven, and how to sue someone for slander.
What Is Slander?
Slander happens when someone publicly speaks damaging and false information about another person. It is a form of defamation of character. Slander is also similar to libel, another form of defamation, but it can be harder to prove in a court of law than libel is. People slander is spoken defamation (not written, like libel), there are several challenges that come along with pursuing a slander lawsuit. So, how do you sue someone for slander? Well, you must meet four requirements for your case to even legally be considered slander.
A slanderous statement must be:
- Spoken out loud (with a witness to attest to this)
- Damaging your reputation
Let’s take a deeper look at each of these requirements for slander.
Publicly trash talking someone does not automatically qualify as slander. The statement must be false to be considered slanderous. What about opinions? While someone sharing their derogatory thoughts about another person in public is offensive – and quite possibly damaging to one’s reputation – it does not qualify as a false statement in the eyes of the law. To be false, the statement must have a factual nature.
Now, publicly spoken does not necessarily mean the statement was made in front of a room full of people or on a podcast. Just one witness must be present in order for the false and damaging statement to be considered slander.
Damaging to one’s Reputation
Another aspect of slander that can be difficult to prove is the havoc it can wreak on someone’s life. For instance, if a person publicly bashed someone else, but the result of the comments were minor, the court would likely not consider it a serious case of slander. However, let’s say we have two competing restaurants in the same town, and one of the owners decides to share that the competition uses expired ingredients, when in fact that is not true at all. The statement could be considered slander only if the victim could prove that they lost business as a result of the false claims.
If a statement is unprivileged, it means that it was completely unreasonable for the person to speak poorly about the victim. Comments that are made out of the left field, with absolutely no context would be considered unprivileged. However, if a journalist or reporter makes a statement about a government official that is seemingly false and defamatory, it may qualify as privileged because it is part of their job to openly uncover and comment on political situations.
Unprivileged statements can be difficult to identify, so it is best to speak with a lawyer if you are unsure.
Not only do you have to meet each of the four requirements for slander mentioned above, but public figures must prove a fifth point: actual malice. Acutal malice is the idea that the person speaking the slanderous statement had the intention of lying and harming the other person’s reputation. Actual malice cases can be extremely difficult to prove.
Read more about Rebel Wilson’s highly covered defamation case.
What About Slander Per Se?
Slander per se is a form of slander that is considered when it is obvious that the defamatory statement has caused damage in the victim’s life.
How To Sue Someone For Slander – The Process
1. Research your state laws and jurisdiction.
Defamation laws vary state by state, so you’ll first want to do a bit of research on how your area handles slander cases. For example, some states require the perpetrator to retract their slanderous statement as a part of the process.
You also need to consider the jurisdiction of your case. If the slander took place in a state that you are not currently in, this may impact which state you are able to file the lawsuit.
2. Gather proof
You will need to provide, in court, copies of the slanderous statements that the other person made against you, as well as proof that the statement checks off all the requirements we outlined above.
3. Discuss with an attorney
As you are figuring out how to sue someone for slander, it’s best to reach out to an attorney (preferably one who specializes in defamation suits) to talk about your options. This doesn’t automatically mean you need to file a lawsuit against the perpetrator, but it opens doors to understanding your options.
Once you have thoroughly discussed the case with your lawyer, he or she can file a lawsuit on your behalf. Your lawyer can most likely get a settlement for you if you have a strong case against the other person.
4. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
A lot of times, slander deeply affects the lives of everyone involved in the case. When a situation is taken to court, it tends to prolong the emotional pain and suffering, as well as put an even brighter spotlight on the slanderous statement. It is possible to settle out of court if you and the person you are suing are both willing to do so. Sometimes, rather than focusing on how to sue someone for slander, hiring a mediator can be the best and quickest solution so you can move on with your life.
Read more about the difference between slander and libel and how to handle both.