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Defamation, Libel and Slander

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Definition: The term defamation means a false statement made by one person (Person A) about someone else (Person B). To constitute defamation, the statement must be hurtful and cause harm to Person B. To prove he or she has been defamed, Person B must prove all of the following:

  • Person A's statement was false;
  • The statement damaged Person B in some manner;
  • The statement was communicated to a third party (someone other than Person A or Person B); and
  • The statement was not privileged. In other words, the statement was not confidential, such as a communication between an attorney and his or her client.

Defamation may be oral or written. The term slander means defamation through verbal statements while libel means defamation in written form. Libel may be committed through any visible means such as print (newspapers, magazines), pictures, sculptures, films, television and an Internet website.

Defamation, libel and slander are torts. A tort is a civil wrong, an infringement of a person's civil rights. Unlike negligence, which is also a tort, defamation, libel and slander are intentional torts. Intentional torts are intentional violations of a person's civil rights. Some intentional torts, such as battery and assault, are also crimes.

Because defamation, libel and slander are torts, the person who has been defamed may seek damages from the perpetrator by filing a lawsuit. To defend himself against the suit, the perpetrator may argue that the statement was true, that it was made with the other party's permission, that the statement was privileged, or that it was communicated accidentally. The perpetrator may escape liability if he or she can prove any one of these arguments.

Different rules apply to defamation, libel and slander when the individual who has been defamed is a public figure. Public officials, celebrities and other public figures have fewer protections against defamation than the average private person. A public figure has chosen to put himself in the public eye. Thus, a public figure cannot prove libel or slander unless he or she can show that the perpetrator acted with malice. In other words, the public figure must demonstrate that the perpetrator knew that the statement was false or that he or she showed reckless disregard as to whether it was true or false.

If your firm is sued for libel or slander, the suit may be covered by your general liability policy under Personal and Advertising Injury Coverage. This coverage is included in the standard ISO liability policy. For the claim to be covered, the libel or slander:

  • Must have been committed in the coverage territory (as that term is defined in the policy) and during the policy period of your policy;
  • The offense must have arisen out of your business;
  • The act must have caused injury to you or another insured; and
  • The statement must be in the form of an oral or written publication that slanders or libels a person or organization or disparages a person's or organization's goods, products or services.

Some states in the U.S. have enacted criminal libel laws. These laws are directed at individuals that defame other people via the Internet.

 

Common Misspellings: lible

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