The defamation laws aim to create harmony in the society. People should not ruin the reputation of others by making false statements and if they do, then they must be ready for the legal consequences. If anyone harms your reputation through slander or libel, then you can file a lawsuit against him/her for defamation. Read along to know when and how you can teach a lesson to the person trying to harm your reputation through slander or libel.
When you can file a lawsuit for defamation
You can file a lawsuit for defamation under the following circumstances:
- A false statement has been made against you in public – The false statement can be made verbally or in writing. It can also be in the form of pictures or gestures. Written statements (libel) are more injurious than verbal statements (slander) since they last for a long time.
The false statement must be made in public. This means a third person has read or heard the statement. The medium can be anything – loud conversation, television, radio, newspapers, leaflets, etc.
- The statement is injurious to your reputation – You're filing a lawsuit because a person has injured your reputation. You need to prove this at the court. For instance, you've lost job because of the negative publicity, your neighbors have isolated you, your life has become worse, the print and electronic media are harassing you constantly, etc.
If others don't believe that the statement has made a dramatic impact on your life, then it you may not be able to file a lawsuit for defamation.
Steps you need to file a lawsuit for defamation
Here are the 7 steps you must take in order to teach a lesson to a person trying to defame you.
- Check if the statements are really false: You can't file a case if the defamatory statement is true. In such a scenario, you can't do anything even if your reputation has been damaged badly. So, you need to be rest assured that the statement is false.
- Set up an appointment with an attorney: Once you're sure that the defamatory statement is false, injurious and unprivileged, it's time to consult an attorney who has dealt with these types of cases for several years. It is not compulsory to consult an attorney. However, since defamation cases can be puzzling and laws differ from state to state, so it is better to consult an attorney.
The attorney won't be able to represent your case if you're not fully prepared. Make sure you've the following information before meeting the attorney.
Full description of the events surrounding the defamatory statement. What actually happened and why the person made the defamatory statement.
Papers, documents, printouts, and any other item that helps to prove the defamatory statement.
Papers containing written statements of people who have either heard or read about the defamatory statement made by the accused.
Any document that helps you prove the fact that defamatory statement fulfills the criteria of filing a lawsuit for defamation. Mention the fact that your life has become hell after the statement has been published. For instance, you've become jobless, your family doesn't keep any kind of contact with you.
- Take out a civil complaint form: Just visit the county court website and search for the civil complaint form. Once you download the form, make sure you fill it out with the following information: (a) slanderer's contact details, (b) a brief summary of the defamation case.
- Let the attorney review the form: Ask your attorney to check if the complaint form has been filled out properly. The attorney will be well-versed with the legal aspects of the defamation case. He/she can tell what exactly you need to put in the form.
- Submit the form after paying fees: Once the form has been checked and approved by your attorney, submit it to the court after paying some fees. Make sure you have 2 copies of the complaint form. You can keep the first form with yourself and the other one will be sent to the defendant.
- Notify the defendant about the complaint: The defendant needs to be served with the copy of the complaint form. You can appoint a process server for this purpose. The process server will serve the complaint to defendant at his/her house. In some cases, process servers will send someone (who the fits the role) to serve the defendant legally. The defendant can respond only after receiving the complaint.
- Decide what you want: After the defendant receives the copy of complaint, he/she may try to contact you. The defendant may want to have a talk with you regarding settlement in order to stay away from court. Now, you've to decide the next course of action. If you just to want to get monetary compensation, then opt for the settlement option. If your reputation is more important, then go to court and try to win the case.
If you've decided to get help from court to restore your good name, then prove that the statement is false and injurious. Keep it in mind that if the defendant is successful in proving that the statement is true, then your case will simply be dismissed. You won't be able to do anything.
You'll get the chance to choose your option at court. You can either opt for jury or a bench trial. In case of a bench trial, a single judge will preside over the case. He or she will check everything and decide if your reputation has been really damaged.