What are Libel and Slander?
Libel or slander is the inappropriate publication of a false and defamatory statement about another who is either a private person, or a public figure where the statement involves a private matter. [MPJI 12:1].
Negligence, in this context means the failure of a person to determine if the statement is false, before they utter it, if reasonable to do so.
A different, higher, standard is involved where the statement concerns a public figure and his or her fitness for office. Words are considered defamatory if the expose the person to contempt, ridicule, or scorn and damages their relationships with others.
To be actionable, the statement must be made to a third person who reasonably understands it to be improper. There are defenses to such a claim. Consent may be raised as a defense. What a witness or a judge may say in court enjoys an absolute privilege from liability for the statements. Lawyers enjoy a 'qualified' privilege for statements in legal documents or those things said in court. If it is related to the litigation, then it is privileged. This qualified privilege extends to pre-suit communications, so long as the communication relates to the suit ultimately filed. Arundel Corp. v. Green, 540 A.2d 815.
And of course the ultimate defense available to personal injury lawyers in Baltimore defending these cases, is "truth" [i.e. the statements, no matter how much they are disliked by the plaintiff, are actually factual].
What I've seen over the years is, not surprisingly, people are defamed all the time. In your typical contested divorce case, I would suspect there is almost an assumption that both parties will be defamed at some point. In make the pursuit of legal action worthwhile, the successful plaintiff will have to have suffered real economic harm as a result of the works. The classic example is of someone who lost a good job because of a defamatory statement, and cannot find comparable work.
This Article was updated by Eric Kirk on 7/8/19.
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