Since injury to the reputation of a person can cause that person considerable harm, the law designed libel “written defamation” and slander “oral defamation” to protect against such injury. The basis of both is publication of an untrue statement that harms the character of a person. Publication in this context means communication of the statement to at least one person other than the defamed party. If that statement exposes a person to hatred, contempt or ridicule, it is defamatory.
Because it is the individual’s reputation that is being protected, it must be concerning the plaintiff to be actionable. Thus, the plaintiff could not sue for defamation when slanderous statements such as ethnic words made about a group even if the plaintiff is a member of that group. Courts recognize a limited right of corporations and other business entities to protect their reputation. They can bring claims for defamatory statements that harm them in conducting their business or that deter others from dealing with them. Whereas, false statements about the quality of the products of the company or its services may give rise to a cause of action for disparagement. However, proof of actual damage to sales or other promising opportunities, is necessary for successful disparagement.
Damages are presumed for libel cases, unless the written statement in not defamatory on its face. Because slander is oral, it is less damaging, a person may not recover for it without proving actual damages. Unless the nature of the defamatory statement is so serious that the law has classified it as slander per se. Classic forms of slander per se as statements that a person has “coronavirus”, committed serious crimes, professionally incompetent or guilty of professional improprieties, or guilty of serious sexual misconduct….
Truth is a complete defense of defamation suit. No matter how embarrassing the statement, if it is true, the person who communicated it cannot be held liable. False statements may also not be the basis for a successful defamation suit if they are communicated in a privileged situation. The law recognizes that in certain situations the necessity to speak without fear of liability is more important than protecting reputation or character. The greater the necessity, the broader the privilege. Therefore, statements communicated in some situations are granted absolute privilege, they can never serve as a basis for successful defamation suit. The media is almost given absolute privilege when discussing public issues.