People from all walks of life are subject to being defamed. Sometimes it’s harmless, other times there can be severe consequences. Consequences that negatively impact your income, job, reputation in the community and cause you to suffer great emotional distress.
With the arrival of the Internet and social media channels like FaceBook, the opportunities for comments and statements to defame you or another person and cause serious damage to your reputation is more real than ever before.
You may have been defamed if:
- Your reputation has been damaged by the comments, statements, or writings of someone else.
- Someone showed reckless disregard for the truth of their statements or they know in fact their statements are false.
As a result you have suffered loss of income, ostracized by others, ousted from an organization, etc.
What is Defamation?
Defamation describes two basic ways that a person’s character and / or reputation can be damaged:
- Slander is defined as follows: “Oral defamation; the speaking of false and malicious words concerning another, whereby injury results to his reputation.”
- Libel is defined as follows: “Defamatory statement published through any manner or media. If intended to simply bring contempt, disrespect, hatred, or ridicule to a person or entity it is likely a civil breach of law.”
A review of recent cases and settlements in South Carolina alone shows juries apparently understand the harms claimed and will reward injured persons with some handsome defamation jury verdicts.
Recent Examples of Defamation in South Carolina:
Earlier this year, a Richland County jury awarded a man that served as a security guard for a local school district’s athletic events $550,000 in damages, including $350,000 in punitive damages, for damage to his reputation caused by what was supposed to be a “confidential” email.
Apparently $1,000 in gate receipts from a soccer tournament was missing and the athletic director and others suspected the Plaintiff took the money, however, they had no proof and no charges were ever brought after their “investigation.”
The problem for the Defendants was the post-investigation “confidential” email was printed and left out in the open for pretty much anyone to see. The contents of that email severely damaged the Plaintiff’s reputation, as it suggested under no circumstances was he to be again given the keys to the building.
After the information in the “confidential” email spread from the school, into the community and eventually to the Plaintiff’s church, he was no longer allowed to collect monies or mentor youth at church, and he heard kids talking about him as the “man who stole the money.”
In September of 2014, an Orangeburg County jury awarded a former employee of an acute care facility $1,000,000 for being falsely accused of raping a patient by one of his supervisors. The Plaintiff, a male, said he had always been uncomfortable with the company’s policy of allowing male patients to change the diapers of female patients.
In Hilton Head Island in June of 2012, a security guard at the well known Sea Pines Resort made public statements about a local municipal judge that led to a jury award in the judge’s favor in an amount of more than $6,000,000. The verdict included $4,000,000 in punitive damages, $2,000,000 in reputational damages, and another $6,000 to reimburse the Plaintiff for counseling and other medical related expenses caused by the Defendants.
Simple, Yet Complicated Law:
Defamation claims at their core involve someone’s reputation being damaged by the comments, statements or writings of another, most often the Defendant or Defendants show a reckless disregard for the truth of their statements or they know in fact their statements are false. In application, however, these claims can require analysis and mastery of a complex set of facts and legal principles. For example, what if the Defendant is a newspaper reporter, and not merely someone from the local community that got loose-lipped and failed to realize the serious nature or consequences of their statements about another person? Another issue that can arise in these cases is the tort claims act, which on its face purports to limit the Plaintiff’s recovery to $300,000.
Limitations on Defamation Claims:
Public figures like judges, politicians, movie stars, musicians, etc. generally must prove “actual malice” by the Defendant as the law recognizes the benefit to the public of free speech and the need to share ideas on issues of public concern. Persons that are not public figures are not subject to these limitations on their defamation claims. For example, any statement that tends to suggest that someone is unfit for their profession can be considered defamation per se as a matter of law, which means that the person damaged would only need to establish their damages resulting from the defamatory comments of the defendant. Another point to remember about defamation is that “truth is always a defense.”
Damages in defamation cases include a special category of “special damages” unique to this type of claim. Special damages in defamation cases include loss of money, property, business, profession and occupation. These special damages must be tied to the plaintiff’s general damages, which can include damage to reputation, mental suffering, hurt feelings, humiliation or other similar categories incapable of definitive calculation.
What To Do If You Think You Have Been Defamed:
Laws governing defamation can be difficult to understand. Claims can require analysis and mastery of a complex set of facts and legal principles.
Our firm has experience bringing and defending defamation claims in state and federal courts, including a recently settled case in federal court involving the statements by public figures made through the news media. This recent case also involved the tort claims act.
If you or someone you know thinks they have been damaged by the statements or writings of another person, contact our firm at 803-223-6942 for a free consultation.