"Defamation" is a word loosely used by people when they feel
that another person has said something insulting and/or false about them.
However, the word has a much more specific definition in the law, as it
is defined as any intentional false communication, either written or spoken,
that harms a person’s reputation; decreases the respect, regard,
or confidence in which a person is held; or induces disparaging, hostile,
or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person. In New York State,
'defamation' is a civil charge, and encompasses both written statements
("libel") and spoken statements ("slander").
In our practice we usually see defamation lawsuits brought when false
criminal charges are levied against someone and which, for example, jeopardize
their employment or even lead to their incarceration. While it certainly
does not take much for someone to utter or publish a false statement about
another person, properly prosecuting a lawsuit in such a case is no easy
task as New York has rather demanding specific pleading requirements in
these types of cases. Failure to properly craft these lawsuits renders
actions defective (and for this reason, our firm has been very successful
in defendant against them). What follows is a brief discussion of the
law of defamation in New York:
To sustain a defamation claim under New York law, a plaintiff is required
to show that:
(1) A defendant made an oral or written factual and defamatory statement;
(2) Regarding the plaintiff;
(3) That was published to others by the defendants; and
(4) That there was resultant injury, unless the statement falls within
a category of "per se" harm.
These are the basic "elements" of a defamation lawsuit, however,
what many attorneys (shockingly) seem to overlook is another requirement
which is set forth in the Civil Practice Law and Rules, and that is that
in any action for libel or slander, the particular words complained of
must be set forth in the complaint. This is a strict requirement and we
have defeated lawsuits because opposing attorneys represented have failed
to draft their documents in the proper fashion. Attorneys also seem to
have difficulty with element four (resultant injury or per se harm). Because
the accountability for uttering harmful statements is balanced against
the constitutional right to free speech, the law requires that the false
statement actually harm the plaintiff (economically, for example), unless
the statement is considered "slanderous per se" (meaning the
words are considered so offensive that the law will actually presume damage
to reputation and business even if such damage hasn't been shown).
Examples of "per se" defamatory statements are those which impute
some offensive or loathsome disease, charge a person with a crime involving
moral turpitude or which subject a person to infamous punishment, or words
spoken in relation to one's business or trade and which have a natural
tendency to injure a person in their business or trade.
In addition to these stringent pleading requirements, there are a slew
of defenses and technical challenges to allegations of defamation which
a lawyer can make in order to defeat such a lawsuit entirely (for example,
an alleged defamatory statement can be challenged if it can be shown that
it is an "expression of opinion" which is non-actionable). As
such, when a person is sued for defamation, an adroit lawyer has many
technical and procedural avenues available to successfully defend them.
As such, if you or someone you know is accused of defamation, you should
contact an experienced attorney immediately.
New York defamation lawyer,