Although each defamation case presents
unique circumstances requiring consultation with a lawyer or attorney, the following provides general responses to frequently asked questions about defamation. This information is NOT provided and should not be considered legal advice. Rather, it serves as a starting point to inform you about defamation law.
Although our firm has attorneys licensed in Illinois, Indiana, Connecticut and Utah, our attorneys have also been involved in litigation involving defamation throughout the United States. Contact us to determine whether we might be able to provide you with representation.
For each question below, we would be pleased to provide more in depth responses based on your individual circumstances. Our firm will discuss your matter at no charge.
What is defamation?
Any specific answer to this question depends on the law of the specific jurisdiction or state at issue. However, defamation can be summarized as a false statement made about an individual without any privilege protecting the speaker that is communicated to a third party and causes damage to the individual about whom the statement is made.
A defamatory statement can be made orally (typically referred to as slander) or in writing (typically referred to as libel). Some jurisdictions or states distinguish between libel and slander, others do not and simply refer to them both as defamation.
What is libel?
Some jurisdictions or states refer to written defamatory statements as libel.
In some cases, a state may treat libel (written defamation) distinctly from slander (oral defamation).
What is slander?
Some jurisdictions or states refer to oral defamatory statements as slander.
In some cases, a state may treat slander (oral defamation) distinctly from libel (written defamation).
Someone posted something false about me online. What should I do?
Contact a defamation attorney before doing anything further. There are specific steps that must be taken promptly to protect your interests. To begin with, the statements need to be preserved and should be preserved by an independent party other than yourself. Additionally, a defamation attorney can inform you whether the statements give rise to a claim or whether the statements may be protected and not defamatory.
Do I have to file a lawsuit immediately?
Each specific jurisdiction and state at issue sets its own time period in which a defamation suit must be filed. This time period is referred to as a "statute of limitations." In Illinois, the statute of limitations for defamation is one year. In Indiana, the statute of limitations for defamation is two years. For Utah, the statute of limitations for slander is one year. It is important to speak to an defamation attorney or lawyer as soon as you learn of statements that may be defamatory.
What if I discovered the defamatory statement after the statute of limitations has expired?
Depending on the law of the applicable state or jurisdiction, a "discovery rule" may apply. The "discovery rule" would provide that the statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff discovers the defamation. However, there also exists law which states that the "discovery rule" does not apply to statements made on the Internet.
A defamation attorney will be able to explain the applicable rule to your situation.
Also, even if the statute of limitations has expired, there may still be means to remove the statements.
Does it matter that the statements appear on or were made through the Internet?
Yes. The law applicable to defamation statements made on or through the Internet may differ from statements not made on the Internet.
This depends on the particular state law involved.
The defamatory statements were made anonymously or by a pseudonym. Can I still file suit?
Depending on other factors such as the applicable statute of limitations, yes. However, it becomes even more important to act quickly. First, it will be necessary to obtain evidence to learn who posted the statements. This requires a lawsuit be filed and subpoenas issued. Some parties who possess the information may retain such information for a short period of time. Consequently, the lawsuit needs to be filed and information obtained before such information is destroyed.
There exists more than one approach to pursuing defamatory statements made anonymously.
Someone sued me for defamation. What do I do?
If you have been served with a summons and complaint, you have a limited amount of time in which to respond to the complaint. If you do not respond to the complaint by the deadline, default may be entered against you. Because of these deadlines by which a response to a complaint must be filed to avoid default, you should speak to an experienced defamation attorney or lawyer promptly.
Sometimes, you may learn from your Internet Service Provider that someone seeks your identity because you spoke anonymously or pseudononymously online. In such a case, you will need to file a motion to quash to help protect your identity from being disclosed. This involves significant work to draft and file an adequate motion to quash.
Can I avoid being sued by saying "In my opinion" or claiming a statement is my opinion?
No. You cannot protect yourself by merely stating "In my opinion" or describing a statement as an opinion. If the statement is clearly an opinion and not based on facts (or implied as deriving from facts), it may be protected.
Many times, this will be a determination made by the judge. It is essential to obtain sound advice from a knowledgeable attorney or lawyer on whether a particular statement will likely be legally considered an opinion.