Defamation is the act of harming the reputation of someone by making a damaging false statement to a third party. The statements can be verbal or written. These days, thanks to the pervasiveness of social media and electronic communication, false and damaging statements can follow people around for years, exposing them to unwanted negative publicity and ridicule.
Here at Hepworth & Associates, we are locally based defamation attorneys in Utah. With offices in Salt Lake City, Bountiful, South Jordan, & Murray, we’ve got nearby attorneys ready to hear your case. Our defamation attorneys are well versed in Utah defamation law and are proud to aggressively defend our clients. We’ll fight hard to restore your reputation.
What is Defamation of Character?
In Utah, defamation requires several essential elements:
- A false disparaging statement;
- About the Plaintiff;
- Made to a third party, either orally or in writing;
- That results in damages (harm) to the Plaintiff
In Utah, some false statements are considered so harmful that damages are presumed by the law. Calling someone a criminal, incompetent in their profession, or stating that the plaintiff has a “loathsome disease” are all examples of this form of defamation. False allegations can be harmful in many different parts of your life. They can impact your personal relationships, career opportunities, business interests, and family life.
Keep in mind, what was said or written must be false. Defamation is a unique area of law that is able to protect people’s reputations by allowing them to have legal recourse. If you have been a victim of defamation, you need a lawyer.
Do I Need a Defamation Lawyer?
Defamation law has very specific requirements and often requires extensive fact-based investigations. Our office has experience handling these types of cases.
We have the legal expertise and resources to help you with all of your defamation needs. Although complex, slander or libel is a very important issue. Defamation is hurtful and can be extremely costly for those that have to go through it. It can affect business, relationships, and emotional health.
If you believe that you have been the victim of slander or libel, and are wondering how to repair your reputation and obtain justice for the harm that you experienced, contact one of our highly skilled Utah lawyers for a consultation.
How Defamation Suit Process Works
If you believe you are the recipient of defamation, and it meets the legal requirements to be brought to court, please contact us today. We will schedule a meeting and talk with you about your case. We would love the opportunity to defend you and restore your integrity.
After our initial consultation, we will develop a strategy to win your case and file the Complaint. After the complaint is filed, the defendant is served with the lawsuit documents. They will have a brief legal window in which to file a response. After they file a response, the court issues a scheduling order which outlines the important deadlines in the case.
This is when the “discovery” phase begins. During the discovery phase, each party sends the other written questions called interrogatories, performs depositions, and further investigates the facts of the case. The interrogatories are answered under oath and they help both parties, and the court, learn more about the facts within the case.
Once the discovery phase is over, the settlement negotiations start. Both parties have the preliminary information and try to structure a settlement that benefits both parties. It is important to listen to your lawyer during this process to be able to be on the winning side of the settlement. Sometimes negotiations cannot be reached and the case goes to trial. During the trial, the jury will hear both sides and decide on the outcome. There are benefits to reaching a settlement and benefits of going to trial, consult your lawyer about which direction to go for your unique situation.
Defamation Per Se
Though the tort of defamation is clearly defined and well established in case law, it is very hard to recover under in practice. Judges and juries are often hesitant to award plaintiff’s large amounts of money on their defamation claims, largely because they don’t want to ever have a chilling effect on free speech. Plaintiffs often struggle to show actual damages in defamation cases, which further hinders recovery.
When plaintiffs can allege defamation per se however, they are usually more successful. Defamation per se occurs when the defendant’s statements have accused the plaintiff of committing a crime, having a loathsome disease, or alleging a promiscuous lifestyle. Defamation per se is when the false statements are inherently damaging that they are deemed defamatory on their face. Damages are presumed in these cases and the plaintiff often recovers more.
It is also more difficult to recover under a claim for slander, which is oral defamation rather than libel, which is written just by the nature of the claims and the difficulty in proving fault and ownership of the defamatory statements. Some defamation cases can cause damages in excess of six figures, depending on the disclosure and the harm caused to the plaintiff. Plaintiff’s who are not public figures, and thus have already placed themselves in a public light, also have a higher chance of recovery, though damages are not usually as high because less damage has been done to their reputation in the public eye.
Defamation by newspapers and magazines, where the information is rapidly and widely disseminated, often causes more harm and ends up paying plaintiffs more, after considering freedom of speech and publication concerns. When deciding whether or not you have a case for defamation to pursue, plaintiff’s should consider how the defendant’s statements actually harmed them. This can be shown in the form of lost wages, reputation in the community, emotional distress, or any other kind of harm, and how they can prove that to a judge or jury.
Additionally, a lot of statements, even if harmful, are protected by privilege. Privileges include governmental employee immunity, judicial proceedings, and statements that are matters of public concern. If the statement was made maliciously, outside the scope of employment, or absent a reasonable purpose, the plaintiff’s case is further strengthened. While defamation can be difficult to prove and recover damages under, it is a well-established area of law, and plaintiff’s do often succeed in their claims.