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DEFAMATION, LIBEL AND SLANDER

 

     In the United States, we enjoy the fundamental right of free speech guaranteed in the Constitution.  Although political speech is largely protected, there are instances where harmful or defamatory communications can create liability against the initiator.

     The Iowa Supreme Court recently discussed these issues in Hoffmann v. Clark. Defamation generally comes in two types: libel and slander.  Libel is a defamatory statement expressed in writing or some other fixed medium.  Slander is a defamatory statement expressed in spoken words.  The same general rules appear to apply to both. 

     Libel claims come in two types: libel per quod and libel per se.    Libel per quod is not immediately apparent without additional facts.  In such cases, a plaintiff bears the burden to prove that they suffered some sort of reputational damage.

     Libel per se refers to statements, whether true or not, that the court can presume as a matter of law that their publication will have a libelous effect.  Such statements have a natural tendency to provoke one to wrath or expose him or her to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or to deprive him or her of the benefit of public confidence or social intercourse.  Proof of damages for libel per se focuses more on “general” damages as opposed to pecuniary loss.  Much of this determination is in the discretion of the jury.

     With all of the vitriol currently on social media, one should be aware that the law may hold those who cause injury accountable.

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