Civil litigation involving slander and libel is a specific area of law that differs somewhat from a typical personal injury case. The injury in a slander or libel claim is that the plaintiff’s character standing has been damaged due to the statements of an individual or a commercial entity. The standards for proving a claim are assessed by a preponderance of the evidence presented in a totality in most civil cases, but slander or libel rules for injury are subjective and often only involve mere witness testimony. While libel cases will commonly be filed against any individual or publisher printing a story that is not factual, slander cases must often be proven by using a public record of a statement made by any individual or company representative. Slander basically applies to spoken attacks, while libel is normally reserved for printed statements that are often used to generate revenue by enticing a customer to buy the publication using potentially false information. The truth is important in slander and libel cases, and the truth must be borne out in a hearing unless the case is settled beforehand out of court.
Proving a Defamation Claim
While all civil cases are decided based on a preponderance of the evidence regarding a totality of circumstances, some claims such as a defamation claim carry a heavier burden of proof than a typical personal injury claim. The plaintiff attorney must establish that the defaming statement was made, which can be difficult in a slander case, and the statement had the effect of malice toward the plaintiff. The standard for these claims in New York is different for public and private figures. Public figures must prove that they suffered “actual” malice by the defaming statement from the respondent, but private figures need only prove the statement was made and directed specifically at them. This puts the standard for a valid claim by a public figure at a much higher threshold that can often be successfully defended. However, it is important to remember that establishing whether an individual is a public or private figure can be done by a low standard, as anyone who intentionally brings public light on themselves by their actions could well be determined as a public figure. This classification includes all businesses advertising in a public space as well as politicians and entertainers to a certain degree.
Assessing the actual damages involved in a defamation case can be a tricky legal task, especially in cases of slander. Slander is typically a spoken defamatory statement that must be patently false in order to substantiate a claim, as the truth is a generally solid defense in most cases. While injury can assuredly be the result of a malicious statement, the respondent also has First Amendment free speech rights to dispel information that is truthful. Many times a case will actually hinge on the factual nature of a statement. The standard for public figures regarding the number of people who heard the statement differs as well, as private figures need only prove that one person other than themselves heard or read the statement. This condition often means that libel claims are more serious than claims of slander because they can remain in print for extended amounts of time and be subject to reading by many individuals. Defamation lawsuits also result in assessment of presumed damages in libel cases without the necessity of proving the injury, as the court assumes some level of injury occurred when the statement is published. This damage award is not applicable in slander cases when the statement can be proven but is not recorded or continually published.
Potential Damage Awards
Damages in all civil action lawsuits will include compensatory damage awards primarily, however punitive damages could be available when an experienced New York defamation attorney can prove to a sympathetic jury that the resulting damage to the plaintiff was the result of gross negligence on the part of the respondent. Criminal charges for verbal assault could also be applied in egregious situations where the respondent acted in premeditation with the expressed intent of actual injury to the plaintiff. Most damage awards are calculated based on the impact on the plaintiff’s ability to earn a living when their business has been tainted, which is often not an easy assessment. They are also calculated for long-term damage as well, which can further increase damage levels. It is also important to remember that damage awards can be mitigated when a publication issues a retraction of the false statement leading to legal action, but the retraction itself is not considered a legal remedy. This is commonly done to reduce the amount of financial recovery the plaintiff will receive. It is also important to note that a public apology is not necessarily a retraction or admission of erroneous statements.
It is clear that libel and slander claims can be difficult legal tasks to prove in many instances, and they should never be attempted by the actual plaintiff without solid representation from a New York attorney who understands how to craft a successful case for a maximum damage award. Always call a legal professional like the attorneys at Spodek Law Group of New York City.
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