Defamation Attorney

Experienced Defamation Attorneys in San Mateo County

Defamation cases are common in California due to its status as a business and entertainment hub. Defamation arises when a person’s reputation is damaged through false publications in the form of libel or slander. California has different standards for public figures and private persons. The aim is to balance between protecting individual rights and the right to free speech and accountability. 

Libel Vs. Slander

California recognizes two types of defamation; libel and slander. Libel is any false statement made in writing while slander constitutes verbal statements. 

Libel is a false publication in the form of writing, picture, printing, effigy, or any other visual communication that exposes a person to contempt, hatred, ridicule, or condemnation. Or which causes the person to be shunned and harms their occupation. 

Slander is any false statement that is orally uttered and does one of the following to the plaintiff:
•    accuses them of a crime
•    claims that they may have a contagious, infectious, or scary disease
•    injures the person’s profession, office, or business
•    ascribes impotence or lack of chastity
•    naturally causes damage 

Elements of a Defamation Case 

To win a defamation claim in California, the plaintiff must prove that:
•    the defendant made an intentional publication of a statement of fact
•    the claims were false
•    the publication was unprivileged
•    the statement had a natural effect of causing injury or damage
•    the publication amounted to negligence

Intentional Publication of a Factual Statement

For the statement to be regarded as defamation, the defendant must have intended to make the specific publication. Publication means sharing the information with a third person who understands its defamatory implications and its application to the plaintiff. The defamatory statements need not be public as communication with one person will suffice.

False Publications

The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defamatory statements made by the defendant are false. Conversely, if the defendant was telling the truth, presenting evidence of the veracity of the claims constitutes an absolute defense to the defamation suit. This implies that if a person is accused of spreading a rumor about another person and the story turns out to be true, then there is no defamation.

The defendant does not need to show the literal truth of the claims as it is sufficient to prove the substance of the statement was true. In private matters, the defendant bears the burden of proving the truth. However, in cases involving public figures or issues of public concern, the plaintiff has the responsibility to prove falsity.

Unprivileged Publications

The defamatory statements made by the plaintiff must be unprivileged to qualify as defamation. California law has a broad classification of privileged communications. These include:
•    publications made in the discharge of official duty
•    legislative and judicial proceedings
•    fair and accurate reports in professional publications 
•    communications without malice to interested parties
 This implies proving privileged communication is a defense option in defamation cases. 

Damages or Injuries Caused to The Plaintiff

The plaintiff must prove that the publication caused injury or special damages. California law has two categories of defamation cases:
•    defamation per se
•    defamation per quod

Defamation Per Se

Defamation per se implies that the published statement is damaging in itself. This means that the publication was so damaging that the plaintiff does not need to prove actual damages. Defamation per se cases include statements accusing others of committing a crime or being unqualified to practice a trade or profession.

Defamation Per Quod

If the publication is not defamatory per se, the defendant has to provide proof of special damages. Examples of special damages include lost revenue, adverse employment consequences, and loss of valuable business partners. 

Fault in Defamation Cases

Since defamation is a form of personal injury, the plaintiff must prove the defendant was culpable for the damages caused. However, culpability depends on whether the plaintiff is a public or private person. 

Private persons are individuals who are not well-known to the public. Public figures are classified into public officials and limited-purpose public figures and include politicians, prominent business persons, and government officials. 

Private Individuals

Private individuals must prove that the defendant was negligent regarding the truth of the published statement.

Public Figures

Public officials and limited-purpose public figures must prove that the defendant had malicious intent in publishing the statement. This imposes a very high burden of proof on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant knew the statement was false and acted negligently. 

Defense in Defamation Cases

Absolute Truth Defense

If the published statement was factual, it is not defamatory regardless of whether it was made in bad faith or was malicious.

Fact Versus Opinion

A major issue in defamation cases is determining whether the defendant made a statement of fact or a mere opinion. The task is for the jury to decide if a reasonable person could conclude that the published claims imply a provably false factual assertion. 

Sometimes statements of opinion can constitute defamation if they are based on alleged undisclosed defamatory claims. In cases where the statement can have both innocent and libelous meanings, the jury must determine how the recipients understood the claim. 

No Liability Without Fault

This defense is available to the defendant who may have engaged in the dissemination of defamatory publications in the regular course of business without intent or negligence. It applies to distributors, transmitters, and disseminators of information such as newspapers, publishers, and online platforms. In this case, the defendant must produce evidence demonstrating good faith, due care, and compliance with customary industry standards.

Statute of Limitations

California statute of limitations offers defamation subjects one year to make a claim under the single publication rule. This means that time starts running immediately after the publication of the statement. 

Damages for Defamation Cases

Presumed Damages 

In defamation per se, the court may award presumed damages based on general considerations such as the credibility of the publication, damage to the plaintiff’s reputation and feelings, the plaintiff’s standing in society, and the seriousness of the accusation. 

Special Damages

Special damages are qualifiable losses that the plaintiff suffered, such as loss of property, income, employability, and professional or business reputation. The plaintiff is required to provide evidence of how their fortunes changed after the publication.

Punitive Damages

Punitive or exemplary damages are awarded to punish the defendant and deter others from engaging in similar conduct. They are awarded to plaintiffs who demonstrate actual malice or recklessness in the defendant’s actions.

Hire Experienced Defamation Lawyers

Defamation cases can be hard to litigate because defamation law is very subjective and prone to broad interpretations. If you need legal assistance with a defamation case in Redwood City, CA, the Law Offices of Katherine R. Moore will be glad to help. We have broad expertise in business litigation and can help you with your defamation case. Call 650-399-0752 or use our online form to get a consultation.