The Problem With Defamation Lawsuits
Attorneys will frequently have clients come to their office wanting to file lawsuit for libel or slander. Slander is verbal defamation, whereas libel is defamation in writing, either in print or on the Internet.
Defamation is the damaging of the reputation of another person. This requires that false statements be made. Mere opinion is not enough. Examples:
If I state that the ABC bakery sells croissants that “don’t have the classic French lightness and aroma,” that is merely opinion, and cannot be the basis of a defamation lawsuit.
On the other hand, if I state that ABC bakery sells croissants that are “made with rancid cooking oil,” that may constitute defamation because it alleges a fact that can be demonstrated to be false.
There are other obstacles to bringing a defamation lawsuit. First, in order to obtain a money damage award from a jury, it usually necessary to show that a person was financially harmed by the defamatory words. For example, if a competitor of Downtown Used Car Sales states that Downtown sells defective cars, and Downtown thereafter experiences a decrease in sales, Downtown will have to prove to a jury that the decreased sales was caused by the defamatory words, not from other factors such as seasonal sales cycles or a general softening of the economy.
In most states there are exceptions to the requirement that a plaintiff prove economic damages. These are cases known as libel per se, such as falsely asserting that a person has committed a crime of moral turpitude.
Finally, the most daunting aspect facing clients who wish to file a defamation lawsuit is that, because they are placing their reputation as a central issue in the case, their entire life will be placed under a microscope by the attorney representing the person being sued. Few people can withstand the intense scrutiny of their entire life, which is necessarily part of every defamation lawsuit.
Consider the hypothetical described above concerning Downtown Used Car Sales.
The attorney for the defendant (the person being sued) would probably have the right to subpoena Downtown’s company records disclosing the names of all persons who purchased cars during the preceding five years. It is inevitable that some of those customers will not be happy with the cars they purchased. Before filing a defamation suit, the attorney, like a business disputes or business litigation lawyer for Downtown should ask the owners of Downtown whether they really want to dredge up a list of unhappy customers who will be subpoenaed to trial to complain about their cars in a public courtroom.
Bottom line – Before spending a client’s hard earned money on a defamation suit, a conscientious attorney will first inform the client of all of the pitfalls and disadvantages involved in such litigation.