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April 2, 2024 | GeneralLitigationNew York

How to Handle Defamation in New York

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Olivia Loftin

Associate Attorney

Being a victim of defamation can be an incredibly stressful experience.  It has the potential to damage your reputation and have negative consequences for your business.  Because of its intricate nature, it’s important how you handle defamation in NY.

What is Defamation?

Defamation refers to the act of publishing or communicating a false statement of fact about an individual to a third party, which results in harm to the individual’s reputation.  Defamation is known as libel in written form and slander in spoken form.

What to Do If You Suspect Defamation

In New York, you are required to provide specific details about the words used.  Courts typically demand information about when, where, and how the statements were made and to whom the statements were directed.

If you believe you are a victim of defamation in NY, it is crucial to gather as much evidence as possible to present to the court.  Evidence that may help could be:

  • Screenshots of relevant materials (if applicable);
  • Documenting the exact time and place of the statements; and
  • Creating a detailed narrative or timeline of events.

If defamatory statements have been printed or posted online, you could request that the responsible individual or entity remove the content and issue an apology or retraction.  However, if you are unsure about your next steps or if your requests are ignored, seeking guidance from an experienced defamation lawyer can help you explore your legal options.

How Can You Prove Defamation?

When a defamation claim is brought to court, the party alleging defamation must demonstrate:

  1. The existence of a false statement;
  2. That the statement was published to a third party without authorization or privilege (more on “privilege” below);
  3. Fault on the part of the person being accused; and
  4. That harm was inflicted on the accusing party, or the statement qualifies as defamation per se.

The first step in proving defamation is differentiating between a statement of fact and a statement of opinion.  A statement of opinion generally does not constitute defamation and is protected by the speaker’s First Amendment rights.  It is equally important to understand that defamation centers around false statements of fact; if the statement is true, it does not qualify as defamation.

It is worth noting that the statute of limitations for filing a defamation claim in New York is one year. However, this clock may reset if the defamatory statement is republished elsewhere or to a new audience.

Defamation per se applies to specific categories of statements where New York courts may not require proof of harm or damage to the individual.  These four categories include:

  1. Statements accusing an individual of a serious crime;
  2. Statements that harm an individual’s trade, business, or profession;
  3. Statements imputing a loathsome disease to an individual; and
  4. Statements imputing unchastity to a woman.

Defamation Defenses

In the event you initiate a defamation lawsuit, the accused party may present their own defenses.  Some of the defenses that may be raised during litigation include:

  • Truth: If the statement in question is true, it is not defamation. The accused party may attempt to demonstrate that their statement was factually accurate.
  • Opinion: Opinions are not considered defamation. If the accused party’s statement can be interpreted as an opinion, they will likely assert this defense.
  • Absolute Privilege: In specific cases, a statement may be protected by an absolute privilege, even if it is defamatory. This protection is typically applied to statements made in legislative or judicial proceedings and, in some instances, statements made by public officials.
  • Qualified Privilege: A qualified privilege often refers to statements made by individuals carrying out a moral, legal, or social duty when there is a common interest among the audience in hearing the statements.
  • Fair Report: An otherwise defamatory statement can be protected if it is published in legislative, judicial, or other governmental reports.
  • Lack of Harm: Except in cases where defamation per se applies, the accused party may defend themselves by arguing that the statements did not cause any actual harm to the individual claiming defamation.
  • Consent: If the accused party can prove they had consent to make the statement, the defamation claim may not succeed.

Reputation of individuals and businesses often hold significant value.  If you believe that your reputation has been harmed by someone’s statements, speak with a member of our team for next steps.



Photo by Product School on Unsplash
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