What Is Libel?

Many people see freedom of speech as an absolute right in the US. It isn’t. For example, libel is a form of personal injury claim that involves publishing false information that damages the reputations of individuals or organizations.

Publishing false information can damage someone’s ability to work or interfere with their relationships. People who commit libel can be held accountable if a plaintiff files a personal injury lawsuit. They can be ordered to pay damages for disseminating false and defamatory information if found guilty.

Understanding libel is more important than ever due to the rise of technology, where false statements can spread worldwide within seconds. If this has happened to you, consider consulting with the personal injury attorneys at De Castroverde Law Group of Las Vegas.

Our experienced team of personal injury lawyers can evaluate your case and plan a strategy for obtaining compensation. To help you understand libel law, we’ve put together this brief overview discussing the definition of libel, how it differs from slander, the potential consequences, and how to prove your case.

What Is Libel?

Libel vs SlanderLibel involves the printed publication of false information that harms a person’s reputation or interferes with their livelihood. Publication of defamatory statements can occur in almost any format, notably newspapers, magazines, and books. In the age of digital media, libel claims can also involve posts on websites, blogs, message boards, social media, or other forms of electronic publication.

Libel is often mentioned in the same breath as slander. The two are similar causes of action because they both involve disseminating false information. In the case of slander, the false information is conveyed verbally through telling lies about another person out loud. Interestingly, radio and television stations face libel rather than slander cases because the information they disseminate is tied to written scripts.

In Nevada, plaintiffs must prove four elements to win a libel case. They must show the publication of a false and defamatory statement to at least one other person, demonstrate recklessness or negligence on the part of the defendant, show how they were damaged, and to what extent.

The Nevada Revised Statutes define defamatory statements as those that serve to “blacken the memory of the dead or to impeach the honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation, or to publish the natural defects” of a person or persons in a way that exposes them to “public hatred, contempt or ridicule.” Plaintiffs must also show that they are the subject of the alleged libel.

Libel is almost always handled in conjunction with civil personal injury litigation. However, Nevada does have a criminal law against libel. The law makes libel a gross misdemeanor, with a potential punishment of up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Criminal libel is rarely pursued due to the difficulty in proving reputational damage beyond a reasonable doubt.

Examples of Libelous Statements

To prove libel, a plaintiff must demonstrate that what was written represents a demonstrably false statement of fact. Under the law, a plaintiff cannot sue someone for expressing their opinions, and the truth is considered an absolute defense.

Determining the difference between a false and defamatory statement and the expression of opinion isn’t always as clear-cut as it may seem and is often a significant issue in libel trials. The alleged libelous statements are also typically evaluated in context, and each word is analyzed to determine its meaning and how it might be taken.

Factual statements that could be challenged as libel can be proven or disproven. Some examples include:

  • “The basketball coach stole money intended to buy the team’s uniforms.”
  • “My neighbor filed fraudulent tax returns last year.”
  • “Their daughter ran away because they were hitting her.”
  • “The restaurant was cited for unsanitary conditions by the health department.”
  • “My boss has repeatedly sexually harassed me.”

It’s important to understand that someone cannot escape accountability for such statements simply by couching them in the form of an opinion. Saying, “I think that my boss sexually harassed me,” is likely to be viewed as a statement of fact that you must defend by providing evidence of what prompted you to publish that sentence.

One unique circumstance under libel law involves statements about public figures. Laws and legal precedents create a more demanding standard for public figure plaintiffs to meet to prove libel. Generally speaking, someone considered a public figure must show that a libelous statement was made with reckless disregard for the truth and actual malice — both challenging standards to meet.

What Damages Can You Obtain In a Libel Lawsuit?

Libel lawsuits involve claims for damages under personal injury law, so the compensation you can ask for is similar to that which you sue for in a severe auto accident.

The first category is actual, measurable, and objective financial losses tied to libelous statements. For instance, if a false statement in print caused you to be fired from your $100,000-a-year job, you may be able to sue for the wages you’ve lost since being out of work. If the libel was so damaging that no one would now hire you, the case might also involve claims for the loss of ability to earn a living. Organizations that pursue a libel claim might sue for damages for lost revenue if the libel prompted them to change their activities.

Plaintiffs in libel cases can also sue for losses for potentially more intangible factors, such as pain and suffering, and emotional damage, such as shame, embarrassment, and humiliation.

Seeking Compensation for Libel

Proving libel at an acceptable legal standard is challenging, as is establishing and documenting claims and damages. Libel cases require qualified legal counsel with extensive experience in personal injury law. Come to De Castroverde Law Group for help. Our team of skilled personal injury attorneys has experience across various practice areas. We will thoroughly review your case and work with you to develop a realistic strategy. Call us or contact us online today.

Photo Credit: Newspaper grape purple by Jon S is licensed with CC BY 2.0