Everyone has probably experienced the unpleasantness of having someone else say something not particularly nice or even true about you, but slander is when this is taken one step further and it can have serious consequences for an individual’s character and career.
Legally, slander is the only form of defamation that isn’t protected by your First Amendment rights, which means you can sue for defamation of character if someone is slandering you.
Beyond this, what can you do if someone is slandering you? What other options are available and what are the steps you need to take in order to sue someone for slander?
That’s what this article is here to answer, looking at how to file a defamation of character lawsuit, the typical length of this process, what happens during a case, what you could be compensated, and whether it’s worth it to sue for defamation of character in the first place?
How Do I File a Defamation of Character Suit?
Before you can file a defamation of character suit, you first have to establish whether or not the statement was slanderous under the legal definition.
To count as slander, the statement against you must be each of the following things: defamatory, published, false, and harmful.
Once you have clarified the nature of the statement and you’re sure it will hold up in court as being slanderous or defamatory, you can begin to file a defamation of character lawsuit.
Typically, this process is pretty straightforward and it is similar to how you would file a number of other types of lawsuits. You’ll need to follow these steps to file your lawsuit:
- Calculate your damages: This includes actual, assumed, and punitive damages. Actual damages can be easily proved, whereas assumed damages are what the court or jury assumes the plaintiff has suffered. Punitive damages are for the defendant but are rarely required in defamation cases.
- Gather the evidence: Make sure to create copies of anything posted online and keep a file of any documents that could support the claims in your lawsuit.
- Talk to an attorney: You’ll want to bring a lawyer in as soon as you’re able when filing a defamation of character lawsuit, as they can help answer any questions or help you along with the process thanks to their extensive experience and expertise.
- File the lawsuit in court: Finally, you may need to file the actual lawsuit in court, but you can work with your attorney to figure out the best strategy for you and your case.
How Long Does it Take to File a Defamation Lawsuit?
There is no real definitive timeline for a defamation lawsuit, as it depends on too many variables which means the length of the case can range from anything as little as months to well over a year (or even years!) to settle.
It all starts from the moment you file the lawsuit.
Filing a defamation lawsuit is actually the shortest part of the entire process, and can be completed with your attorney to further speed things up, as they will have years of experience and can help you fill out the answers to the questions included on the form.
Next comes the discovery part of the process, which in itself can usually take up to a year to complete due to all the back and forth that goes on between both sides during this stage.
Whether or not the case goes to trial will be another influence over the length of the whole process, as this will drag it out much longer than it would last if you were to reach a settlement agreement between you before it gets as far as this point.
Plus, being given a date for a trial does not always necessarily mean the trial will go ahead on that day due to trials being postponed or rescheduled on a frequent basis.
What Happens in a Defamation Case?
You might have seen a dramatic trial playing out on television, either in film, tv, or on the news, but few people could actually tell you what happens in a defamation case.
In order to prove slander, you will need to demonstrate the following in your lawsuit:
- That someone has made a false, slanderous, or defamatory statement regarding yourself whilst knowing that it was untrue.
- That the statement in no way falls under a privileged category.
- That there was negligence involved in the publication of the statement.
- That you were harmed or negatively affected by the statement.
Here is a timeline for what will happen during a defamation case:
- Meet with and choose a lawyer: Going through a defamation case can be a challenge, so choosing a good lawyer to represent you before you start this process means that they can help advise you every step of the way.
- File a complaint: You will need to fill out an official complaint form which is the first document involved in filing a lawsuit.
- Serve the complaint: Once you have filed the complaint, it needs to be served to the defendant. Make sure you adhere to the service rules of your state.
- Perform discovery: The next step in filing a defamation of character lawsuit is to exchange questions with the defendant to try and help build your case. At this point, you will also need to present any proof or documentation that supports your claim.
- Attend settlement negotiations: You will now have to decide if you want to settle the case or if you will let it go to trial, which your lawyer will be able to advise you on.
- The trial: Most cases will end up reaching a settlement, but some do go to trial which does mean that the whole process can be dragged out for longer.
How Much Can You Sue for Slander?
There is no limit to how much you can try to sue for slander, but there is, however, a limit on how much you can reasonably expect to receive as compensation for slanderous comments.
The amount you receive in compensation due to defamation of character depends on the severity of the case and the consequences that came about as a result.
For really bad cases, judges and juries have been known to award millions of dollars in damages.
Other cases have come out with as little as $1, although this is usually reserved for nominal or petty instances of slander rather than more serious cases.
In order to prove you are entitled to financial compensation, you will need to prove the link between the slanderous statement and a loss of income or financial difficulties you have experienced.
To give you an example, if you lost the business of one of your usual clients, customers, or companies, you could claim for any commission or sales you missed out on.
It’s essential that you make copies of and bring all of the necessary documentation that proves your loss of earnings to back up your claims and to improve your chance of winning.
Is it Worth Suing for Defamation of Character?
There’s no denying that suing for defamation of character is a lengthy and sometimes challenging process, which makes some people wonder whether or not it’s worth it?
Ultimately, this is something that will come down to you and your personal decision, but here we’ll try to answer this question in its more general sense.
So, how much does it cost to sue for slander?
The answer to this question depends on the lawyer you hire to represent you in your case, as their hourly rates or flat rates will vary between firms.
There’s also the individuality of each case to consider, as each one is unique and will have different requirements.
In general, the cost of suing for defamation of character depends on these factors, plus the attorney’s level of experience and the length, complexity, or even the result of the case.
However, these costs could all be outweighed by a successful case that sees you highly compensated for the slanderous statements made against you, covering any loss of earnings.
Financially, then, it could definitely be worth suing for defamation of character.
There’s also your reputation to consider, as proving that a statement was slanderous in court (i.e. proving that it was false) and winning the case could help repair some of the damage of the defamation of character you experienced, helping to change the public’s opinion of you.