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Slander, Libel and Defamation

Serving Clients throughout the Beaumont, Marshall, Tyler and Lufkin Divisions of the Eastern District of Texas

A name forms the basis for a person’s reputation, livelihood and social status. From a business perspective it may represent branding in the marketplace. Names have value, and when someone falsely tarnishes your reputation, causing economic damages — such as job loss, lost business, or the inability to obtain employment — you may have the right to sue for compensation. The broad legal term for such abuse is defamation or defamation of character. Slander and libel are more specific legal terms. Our defamation of character lawyers at Bush Lewis bring decades of experience to every case, and we can investigate and represent you in a claim to recover the full value of your losses in some situations.

Defamation Definition

Slander and libel are specific types of defamation, and the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code offers a libel definition under statute § 73.001. ELEMENTS OF LIBEL, which reads:
A libel is a defamation expressed in written or other graphic form that tends to blacken the memory of the dead or that tends to injure a living person’s reputation and thereby expose the person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or financial injury or to impeach any person’s honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation or to publish the natural defects of anyone and thereby expose the person to public hatred, ridicule, or financial injury.
Slander is essentially the same thing in oral or spoken form instead of writing or some other graphic form.

Proving defamation in Texas

In order to bring a successful defamation case in Texas, a lawyer must be able to prove certain elements, including the following:
  • Publication. Publication means the statement is “published” or broadcast to one or more individuals through either spoken or written form.
  • Statement about the person. People hearing the communication or reading the material must easily recognize the defamatory statements as made about the injured person.
  • Defamatory statements. The statements made must be harmful to the person’s reputation.
  • Falsity. The statement or statements must be proven to be false. This means that the statements must be one alleging a fact and not someone’s opinion. Someone’s opinion about someone else can never be proven to be false. And, a true statement of fact (no matter how embarrassing or harmful) can never be the basis of a successful defamation claim.
  • Requisite degree of fault. Under Texas law, two different degrees of fault must be proven — negligence or malice — depending on whether the claim of defamation is about a public or private person.
  • Damages. The defamation must result in some sort of damage, whether in terms of reputation, business, employment or marketing value. However, certain false statements are considered so bad or heinous that damages are assumed always to have occurred.
  • Ability to Pay Damages. Often a person who defames someone has no money or assets to pay the damages in a judgment against them. This means that no lawyer is going to take one of those cases even if someone has been terribly wronged or damaged by defamation. Good lawyers always carefully check the financial resources and other assets of the wrongdoer in a defamation case.

Defamation Cases Involving Public or Private Persons

In defamation cases, private and public individuals have different burdens of proof. Private individuals who are suing for defamation must only prove that defendants acted with negligence regarding the falsity of defamatory statements about them. In contrast, public individuals suing for defamation must prove that defendants acted with malice regarding the falsity of defamatory statements.

Proving negligence is a much lower standard of proof than proving malice. Private individuals can show that defendants were negligence because they lacked a reasonable level of care when determining whether the statement contained true facts or falsehoods.

Malice, on the other hand, does not mean evil intent to inflict harm. In defamation cases, it means publishing statements that are known to be false or recklessly disregarding the truth or falsity of the statement.

In Texas, the plaintiff has one year from the date that a defamatory statement was made to file a defamation lawsuit. One year after the defamation occurs, there is no longer any right to bring a claim.

If you or a family member has been the victim of slander or libel, our defamation of character attorneys at Bush Lewis can investigate your claim and evaluate the prospects of pursuing a case. Our firm has actually successfully tried defamation cases. Bush Lewis attorneys are officed in Beaumont, Texas, and are experienced in defamation litigation. Call Ken Lewis or one of the other Bush Lewis lawyers today at 409-835-3521, or email us.

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