Though everyone has the right to express their opinions, what happens when those opinions are presented as true or factual and harm your character or reputation? What are your legal options if someone spreads false information about you that hurts your reputation? In Nevada, a person who makes defamatory or harmful statements can be sued for defamation of character and compensation. In this article, the team of De Castroverde Criminal & Immigration Lawyers discusses defamation of character, its consequences, how defamation relates to free speech, and when you should hire a lawyer.
What Is Defamation of Character?
Under Nevada law, the term “defamation” refers to any intentionally false statements that harm someone’s reputation or character. Defamation occurs when a false statement about another person hurts that person’s reputation. Negative remarks about someone’s character, abilities, beliefs, or business practices are all examples. For defamation to be considered, the statements must be false.
Defamation occurs in three forms: libel, slander, and defamation per se.
According to Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) section 200.510, libel is defined as malicious defamation expressed through writing, printing, signs, photographs, or other means designed to subject the person who is being defamed to public hatred, disdain, or ridicule. It’s libel if the false, defamatory statement is in writing, even online.
Examples of libel include the following:
- A neighbor posting on Facebook that you’re having an affair that hurts your reputation.
- A coworker sending false emails to your employer claiming that you stole equipment, leading you to lose your job.
Slander is the term used to describe verbal or spoken defamatory statements. Since slander involves speech or statements, proving slander may be more difficult if it isn’t documented or recorded.
Examples of slander include the following:
- A neighbor making a statement on their podcast or vlog that you’re a bigot or racist, which results in you receiving threats and being excluded from community activities.
- A former friend falsely telling a customer that you were indicted of a crime, resulting in a loss of business.
Defamation per se
Under defamation per se, certain statements are deemed so harmful, naturally unsettling, and defamatory that a plaintiff need not demonstrate that they actually experienced damages. In Nevada, a false statement must fit into one of four criteria to be considered defamation per se:
- The plaintiff committed a crime.
- The plaintiff contracted a loathsome or sexually transmitted disease.
- The plaintiff was unchaste if a woman or there was an allegation of sexual misconduct by either gender.
- The allegation intended to injure the plaintiff in their trade, business, profession, or office.
Examples of defamation per se include the following:
- An ex-partner posting online that you have given someone a sexually transmitted disease.
- A friend telling a neighbor that you abuse your children.
Can You Sue For Defamation of Character In Nevada?
To succeed in a defamation of character case in Nevada, you must prove four elements:
- That the defendant made false and defamatory statements of “fact” about you.
- That the defendant published the statements to a third party without your permission.
- That the defendant acted negligently, recklessly, or intentionally.
- That the statements caused reputational harm.
It isn’t defamatory if a statement is true or even largely accurate. If a false statement would likely have the effect of degrading your standing in the community, provoking unfavorable opinions about you, and resulting in you being treated with contempt, it’s defamatory. The defamatory statement must be made to a third party, either written or spoken. The defendant knows or should know that the statement is false. You must demonstrate that the defendant’s fraudulent claims genuinely caused you tangible harm.
What Are the Consequences of Defamation?
In Nevada, there are both criminal and civil penalties for defamation. A criminal charge of defamation or libel is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 364 days in prison and a maximum fine of $2,000. Plaintiffs in civil defamation cases are entitled to compensation for their actual losses in the form of compensatory damages. Examples of compensatory damages include the following:
- Negative effects on employment, such as demotion or termination.
- Loss of clients or customers.
- Decreased business traffic.
- Lost profits.
What About “Free Speech’?
Freedom of speech, or the right of the people to freely express their views and beliefs, is protected by the U.S. Constitution and the Nevada Constitution, which both state that the government may not prohibit, restrict, or in any other way impede free speech. Free speech is generally protected from civil litigation if it’s truthful or based on an honest opinion.
Freedom of speech isn’t absolute. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “false statements of fact have no constitutional value” and has permitted restrictions on freedom of speech, such as time and location limitations for public gatherings and constraints on making threats or inciting rioting. Nevada’s constitution also identifies defamation as an abuse of the freedom of speech.
When Should You Hire a Lawyer?
You should contact a competent Nevada defamation lawyer when you realize you’ve been defamed. Because of free speech safeguards, the availability of several defenses, and the occasional missing piece of online evidence, defamation prosecutions, particularly slander claims, are typically difficult to prove. The statute of limitations for defamation claims in Nevada is two years. So, you must file your lawsuit within two years of the allegedly defamatory statement being made or published.
An experienced defamation attorney will conduct a thorough investigation where they will gather the necessary documentation and evidence, file and submit your claim to the court, and negotiate on your behalf.
If you believe you’re the victim of defamation, help is available. De Castroverde Criminal & Immigration Lawyers’ knowledgeable and qualified team will work hard to get you the compensation you deserve for the damage to your reputation. For well over a decade, we’ve defended the residents of Las Vegas and the surrounding areas in a variety of cases. Contact us today at 702-996-4860 or complete our secure online form.