Lies and misinformation spread in public forums can have disastrous consequences for a person’s career and personal life. Defamation is an umbrella concept covering legal theories that allow someone who has been wrongfully attacked verbally (slander) or in print (libel) to sue the defaming party for damages. Libel and slander each have their own specific rules.
Libel protects victims of published untruths
In Nevada, libel is a gross misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of up to 364 days and/or up to $2,000 in fines. NRS 193.140. An individual harmed by a libelous publication may also sue for damages in civil court. Libel is defined in NRS 200.510 as follows:
A libel is a malicious defamation, expressed by printing, writing, signs, pictures or the like, tending to blacken the memory of the dead, or to impeach the honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation, or to publish the natural defects of a living person or persons, or community of persons, or association of persons, and thereby to expose them to public hatred, contempt or ridicule.
Note that NRS 200.510 protects both the living and the dead, as well as individuals and groups. It applies to any form of publication of libelous materials. “Publication” is defined as “any method by which matter charged as libelous may be communicated to another.” This covers not only print media like newspapers and magazines, but also electronic communications (i.e., social media and email). Editors, managers of publishing houses, and authors may be liable, as well as Individuals who provide libelous materials to a newspaper—as sources, for example.
Slander is the verbal equivalent of libel
Like libel, slander involves making damaging, untrue statements about a person. But unlike libel, slander is strictly verbal, and is not subject to potential criminal prosecution. A verbal statement can be more difficult to pursue in court than one that is published, for the simple reason that a published statement usually can be placed into evidence without needing witnesses to prove that the statement was made in the first place.
Civil lawsuits for defamation must prove four elements
To prevail in a civil lawsuit a person who has been defamed must show four things:
- The defendant must have made an untrue and defamatory statement.
- The defendant published or said the defamatory statement to a third party without the authority to do so.
- The defendant must be at fault for the statement.
- The plaintiff must have suffered damages.
Any one of these elements can undermine a plaintiff’s case. A good defense against a defamation claim is, of course, that the statement was true, or was not a statement of fact but instead merely an opinion. One can say “I think that guy’s a jerk,” without committing defamation. But one cannot say, “That guy stole the car he’s driving,” if one knows that in fact the driver owns the car.
Proving damages can be a significant roadblock to recovering compensation for defamation. It can be fairly straightforward if, for example, the defendant lied to the plaintiff’s boss (“She is stealing from the company.”) and the plaintiff lost her job because of it. But a person’s damages from defamation are often less clear. There are four cases where the plaintiff does not need to prove damages to bring suit: (1) imputations that the plaintiff has committed a crime, (2) imputations that would injure the plaintiff’s trade, business, or office, (3) imputations that the plaintiff has contracted a loathsome disease, and (4) imputations of unchastity in a woman. Branda v. Sanford, 97 Nev. 643, 646 (1981).
GGRM is a Las Vegas personal injury law firm
The law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez represents clients in the Las Vegas area. If you have been defamed and suffered harm as a result, our attorneys are happy to discuss your legal options with you. For a no-cost attorney consultation, call us today at 702-388-4476, or ask us to call you through our contact page.