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Defamation and Its Defenses

Your good name and general reputation are worth a lot, right? Say, for example, that Simon is a local store owner. A former customer, David, is envious of Simon’s financial success and concocts a plan to try to force Simon out of business. David spreads a false rumor that Simon sells stolen goods in his store. Simon suffers irreparable damage to his reputation, and his good name is tarnished in the community.

There may be an opportunity for Simon to recover. Should someone falsely tarnish your reputation, the law provides for a remedy under a claim for defamation.

A cause of action for defamation requires: (i) a false and defamatory statement concerning another; (ii) an unprivileged communication of that statement to a third party; (iii) fault amounting to at least negligence on the part of the speaker; and (iv) either actionability of the statement irrespective of special harm or the existence of special harm caused by the publication.[1] A communication is defamatory if it tends to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him.

A claim of defamation can either be a claim of libel or slander. Libel is a claim of a spoken defamatory statement. Slander is a claim of a written defamatory statement.

Defendants like David do have a few options to defend against a claim of defamation. A defendant may use the defense of: (i) truth; (ii) privilege; (iii) opinion; or (iv) hyperbole.[2] If the defendant is able to prove any of these defenses, he or she will have a successful defense to a claim of defamation.

For starters, if the statement made by the defendant was actually true, then a plaintiff will be unable to satisfy a claim of defamation. In the above scenario, for instance, say David has evidence that Simon is actually engaged in the sale of stolen goods. If he can prove that his statements were true, he may have a valid defense to Simon’s claim.

Privilege often exists for reporters and journalists.[3] They are given more leeway to publish information due to their First Amendment rights and regulations such as the Fair Report Act.

For a defendant to use the defense of opinion, the party must be able to provide a basis for his or her opinion.[4] This requires the defendant to provide extrinsic evidence as to his or her basis for that opinion.

Lastly, the defense of hyperbole is, or a hyperbolic statement, is one which is so far-fetched that it would not be offensive to a person of regular sensitivity.[5] If the defendant is unable to provide evidence to support the hyperbolic statement, his or her defense will not prevail.

If you need more information about defamation, tort law, or personal injury issues, call us for a free consultation at 617-657-HURT (4878) or fill out our contact form here.


[1] Restatement (Second) of Torts § 558 (1977).

[2] Defamation Law: Positive Jurisprudence, 13 Harv. Hum. Rts. J. 263, 274. (laying out defenses to defamation)

[3] ELM Med. Lab. v. RKO Gen., 403 Mass. 779, 532 N.E.2d 675 (1989) (providing rational for privilege).

[4]Dulgarian v. Stone, 420 Mass. 843, 652 N.E.2d 603, 608 (1995) (distinguishing the difference between expression opinion and pure opinion0.

[5] Dulgarian v. Stone, 2 Mass. L. Rep. 25 (1994) (showing examples of hyperbolic language)

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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