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False statements can easily ruin someone’s life because it only takes one rumor or lie. If someone says the wrong statement about you, it could destroy your reputation, your career and even personal relationships. But when does a comment become defamation?

A defamatory statement covers any expression that may damage a person’s reputation. It can be written and published or spoken aloud, but it has to be more than just offensive. It has to be so egregious that it causes long-term effects on that person’s character.

What statements would be defamation?

To determine defamation, the court usually analyzes the contexts of the statements and sees if the statements follow into one of four categories, including:

  • A criminal offense
  • A disease or illness
  • Incompatible with their business or trade
  • Sexual misconduct

Next, the court has to see proof that the comments are false or do not fall under opinion. If it is an opinion, it could not be considered incorrect since opinions are inherently subjective.

Finally, the judge needs evidence that there was damage due to these statements. For example, you may have lost your job and cannot find work due to the comments. It also may be the portion where you prove there was “injury” due to the defamation.

How does this change for public figures?

There is an additional layer for public figures, like celebrities or politicians, since the burden of proof is higher. A public figure has to prove everything above, plus they have to show that the comments were said with actual malice, with malicious intent to harm the person.

It won’t cover comments that were made in mistake. Actual malice only applies if the person said the comments and knew they were inaccurate or had reckless disregard for their statements.

It’s incredibly challenging for public figures and others to pursue defamation lawsuits, but it’s not impossible. You need to know the nuances in the rules and the right representation to help you determine the likelihood of success in your case.