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The Difference Between Libel and Slander

September 20, 2013 General

Libel and slander are both types of defamation. Libel occurs when the defamatory statement is made in writing or some other permanent forum. Slander is a spoken defamatory statement. Other than this difference between printed and spoken defamation, the differences between slander and libel have blurred until there are few meaningful distinctions any longer, except in the technical details.

Both libel and slander are torts, meaning they are a type of injury to the person, just like a car accident is a personal injury. The Media, Pennsylvania, law firm of Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus, LLP in Media, Pennsylvania, has represented plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits since 1980. We have extensive experience with defamation cases, and we are also experienced litigators who have achieved numerous high-value sums in personal injury cases, including many six- and seven-figure verdicts and settlements.

To make a case for defamation—whether libel or slander—the plaintiff must show:

  • Identification: the statement clearly identifies him or her and could not be mistaken for another person
  • Publication: the statement was “disseminated to a third party,” either verbally or in writing
  • Defamatory meaning: the statement must do harm to the plaintiff’s personal or professional reputation, not just simply hurt the plaintiff’s feelings
  • Falsity: truth is a defense to a defamation claim, so the plaintiff must show that the statement was false
  • Statements of fact: statements of opinion cannot be defamatory; instead the statement must contain verifiable statements of fact
  • Damages: the defamatory statement must have caused actual economic injury or special damages as defined by the statute at issue

Public officials and public figures are held to a different standard than private citizens when it comes to defamation. A public figure may not sue for defamation unless he or she can also prove that the statements were made with actual malice, meaning knowing disregard that the statements were false.

Truthfulness of the statements is not the only defense to a claim of slander or libel. Other defenses include:

  • Statements in judicial or other proceedings are protected from claims of defamation
  • Statements reporting on the deliberations of a public agency, like a city council, are protected
  • Libel-proof plaintiffs are those public figures whose reputations are so poor that a defamatory statement could not do any additional harm

Defamation lawsuits are sometimes used offensively, in unconstitutional attempts to curb public discourse on important community issues. These lawsuits are known as SLAPP suits, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.

If you have questions as the object of a defamatory statement or a SLAPP lawsuit, consider Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus, LLP. To schedule a free initial consultation, call 610-565-4055 or 302-594-4535 or contact our Pennsylvania personal injury law firm online.