personal injury attorneyWhen most people think of personal injury they typically think of slip and falls, car accidents, and dog bites, for example. However, in the legal arena, a personal injury claim does not always involve someone actually being physically injured. Defamation is an example of a “personal injury” claim that does not involve physical injury.  In this article, our personal injury attorney will explain the basics of a personal injury claim for defamation.

What is the legal definition of defamation?

The term “defamation” basically refers to harm or damage to another individual’s reputation. It can occur either in written form (referred to as “libel”) or verbally (referred to as “slander”). Either way, a victim of defamation can file a personal injury suit in order to recover for the damages they suffered as a result of this particular harm.

What does the law say about defamation claims?

The laws relating to defamation claims are governed by state law and each state has its own laws regarding the evidence that must be demonstrated to establish this particular type of claim. For this reason, you should speak to a personal injury attorney in your state if you believe you may have a defamation claim.

What are the essential elements of a defamation claim?

Despite the differences in state’s laws, there are certain elements that are generally required to establish a defamation claim. First, you must be able to show that the statement you believe was defamatory was either spoken or printed to someone other than you.  This element is often referred to as “publication.” If the statement was not published it is difficult to prove damage to your reputation. Second, you must show that the statement was actually false.  In other words, just because a statement puts you in a bad light, it is not defamatory unless it is not true. Third, you must show that your reputation was actually damaged by the statement. Again, there are variations to these elements, so check with your personal injury attorney.

A few issues to consider when filing a defamation claim

There are a few considerations that your personal injury attorney will likely discuss with you when you are preparing to file your defamation claim. One of those issues is whether or not the statement you claim as defamatory was merely an opinion. In order to support a defamation claim, the statement must have been presented to others as a fact, not simply an opinion.  For example, if someone says, “I believe she is the kind of person who would have an STD,” that is only stating an opinion. However, if that person says, “Mary was diagnosed with Herpes,” and that is not true, that would be a defamatory statement.
Another consideration is that the rules are different when the statement involves a celebrity or public official. In those cases, you are required to prove that the person who made the defamatory statement acted with “actual malice.” The theory is that celebrities and public officials voluntarily place themselves in the public eye and know they will be more susceptible to such comments.

What does Missouri law require for a defamation claim?

As far as the publication element of a defamation claim, Missouri law states that making a false statement about someone to that person directly is not considered defamatory.  It also requires proof that the person making the false statement either know or should have known that the statement would be made public. If the alleged victim consents at any point to the publication of the statement, then a defamation claim cannot be actionable.
Again, the statement must be false and it is the victim’s burden to prove the statement is false.  If the statement is too vague with regard to who the statement was targeting and what the statement actually means, then the claim may be difficult to prove. Finally, there must be evidence of damage to the person’s reputation. If the statement is merely offensive to the person about whom it is made, then it may not constitute defamation.

Missouri does not recognize a defamation per se claim

In some states, certain statements are considered to be harmful regardless of the situation. These types of statements are referred to as defamation per se, which means you do not have to prove the harm that was suffered. Instead, the harm is presumed.
If you have questions regarding defamation claims or any other personal injury matters in Arkansas or Missouri, please contact the Cottrell Law Office for a free consultation. You can contact us either online or by calling us toll-free at (888) 433-4861.

Author Photo

Wesley Cottrell

Wes Cottrell earned his B.A. from Pittsburg State University in 1981 and his J.D. from the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas in 1985. He was admitted to practice law in Kansas in 1986, in Missouri in 1987, in Arkansas in 1989, and Oklahoma in 1993. He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.

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