Some are under the mistaken idea that they can use the so-called Constitutional right to freedom of speech to say anything they want. Unfortunately, words can cause harm, and no one has a right to say whatever they wish. Just as the Constitution gives rights, it also provides restrictions on those rights. When you have suffered harm because of the words of another, you may have a right to pursue money damages from them. Read on to find out more about defamation.
Defamation of Character
Reputations have been ruined by words, but it takes more than that to prove defamation of character. You can suffer losses in your personal life, your employment, your financial health, and many other ways. Under the general heading of defamation there are two divisions: slander and libel. Slander is when someones speaks and it causes you harm. Libel applies to the written word, either on paper or online.
Elements of Defamation
Both slander and libel share the same general guidelines for determining a course of action. To have a case against a person (or a business entity) and to seek and win financial compensation, all of the following must be true:
- The words must be seen or heard by more than just you. That means that personal correspondence (like a letter or an email) does not meet the standard unless it becomes public without your actions, knowledge, or consent.
- The words must not be true. This element can be the trickiest to comply with. If someone posted on Facebook that you lost your job because you stole money from your employer, you must be ready to show that the statement had no validity.
- You must have been harmed. It may not be enough to show that you were made uncomfortable by certain words — concrete proof of the harm done to you may be needed. You might show, for example, how you suffered harm to your marital relationship after false allegations of an affair were mentioned on television.
Other Free Speech Limitations
While slander and libel are two categories that are actionable in personal injury court, there are many others that have their limits. These forms of expression are also not protected by the First Amendment:
All of the above can be prosecuted in criminal court.
If you suffered harm to your personal life, work life, or any other areas because of harmful communications from another, you may be entitled to money damages. The sooner you speak to a personal injury lawyer the better, since a statute of limitations applies to defamation cases in all states. Speak to a personal injury attorney about your case to learn more.