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What Is Defamation?

July 17, 2023 Scura Law Firm


As social media usage increases, disrespectful posts also increase. But when does a harmful statement go too far? Sometimes harmful statements can result in legal action if the statement constitutes defamation. If you think you or a loved one is a victim of defamation, a personal injury attorney may be able to help you.

Where is the line between defamation and other statements? Under New Jersey case law, a defamatory statement is one that is false and injures the reputation of another person. The statement cannot be an opinion, or a joke and it must be actually false. The false statement must cause damage to the subject of the statement. The person making the statement must know that it is false. For example, it must be harmful to one’s reputation or business. If the statement is not sufficiently damaging, it will not be considered defamation. The damage must go beyond emotions such as embarrassment and hurt feelings.

In determining what constitutes defamation, the court has laid out statements that are defamation per se, or defamation as a matter of law. This means that on its face the statement is considered defamation, without looking further. Defamation per se includes false statements that a person committed a crime; has a loathsome disease; engaged in sexual misconduct; or engaged in conduct that is adverse to their business. If a statement does not fall into the defamation per se category it still may be defamation. Instead, the court would have to consider extrinsic factors on a case-by-case basis in determining what is defamatory.

While the presence of defamation occurring through media is rising, defamation can take different forms. If the statement is written it is libel. If the statement is oral it is considered slander. Defamation could also be implied. Defamation by implication, although harder to prove, is when a wrongdoer implies false, harmful statements rather than explicitly communicating the statement. Regardless of the type of defamation, the same law previously mentioned applies.

Additionally, New Jersey abides by the single publication rule. The single publication rule applies to each type of defamation statement, including those posted on social media. This rule requires that regardless of the amount of people that hear or read a defamatory statement, the publisher of that statement can only be sued one time. For example, if a wrongdoer publishes a defamatory statement to twenty people about you, you can only bring one defamation claim against the wrongdoer, not twenty. This is especially important in the social media context. This is because defamatory social media post may be broadcast to hundreds or thousands of viewers yet will only constitute one defamation claim.


What to do if you are being defamed

First, you should keep and record all evidence of harmful statements made against you. Without physical proof of the statements made, and the damages cause, it will be difficult to pursue legal action. Contact a personal injury attorney. A personal injury lawyer can help you draft a cease-and-desist letter to the person publishing false statements about you. A cease and desist letter is a document that warns the wrongdoer that legal action will be brought against them if they continue to, or refuse to revoke their defamatory statements. It should clearly include defamatory statements and the damage they cause. This is another reason why it is crucial to keep records as evidence. It can be a powerful tool if properly executed. Your personal injury attorney can also offer you other options on a case-by-case basis. However, it is important to remember that a defamation claim has a one-year statute of limitations. This means that if more than a year passes since the defamation incident, you will not be able to bring a claim in court. So, if you think you are being defamed, it is important to seek a personal injury attorney quickly.

If you believe yourself or a loved one is a victim of defamation it is important to seek professional help quickly. Our personal injury attorneys at Scura, Wigfield, Heyer, Stevens and Cammarota, LLP may be able to help. Contact that firm today for a consultation.

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