What is defamation?
I get a lot of calls and emails about defamation. Defamation is when someone says something false about you, which then damages you. A typical example is if someone at your workplace lies about your job performance and then you get terminated. This is absolutely illegal, and if it happens to you, you can sue for damages.
The two big issues for me in considering a defamation case are (1) can we prove a false statement was made about you, and (2) how much did the false statement cost you from a financial point of view.
The most typical defamation cases are business defamation cases, that is, cases in which someone says something false about you that damages your professional reputation. For example, a colleague says you failed to perform your job duties. Sometimes it is easy to disprove this statement with objective evidence like time cards, video tape or witness testimony. But sometimes it is hard to prove, for example, if your employer says you were terminated because you were confrontational with your supervisor, but you know it is because you refused to fudge the numbers. This is a harder case to prove as defamation because it depends on the subjective understanding of whoever fired you.
The other big issue is whether you can prove financial damages. In today’s day and age, it is not unusual for someone to say something terrible about you online like “you are a Soviet spy.” This might be easy to disprove, but then the question is whether you have suffered financially because of the statement. To bring a successful defamation case, you have to prove that you lost money because of the false statement. If you’re a Department of Defense contractor, and the government stopped working with you because of the false statement, then you’ve got a strong case. But if you were just having a heated argument with your aunt on Facebook and you can’t point to a specific negative financial result that was cause by the false statement, then you don’t have a very good defamation claim.