Public Officials and Public Figures
Defamation of a Private Individual
Defamation Per Se and Per Quod
The Law Offices of Baldwin
and Briscoe have always believed in protecting a person’s character. We have fought and continue to fight for our
clients best interests.
A defamatory statement is a false statement about another person that exposes
that person to public scorn, hatred, contempt, or ridicule, thereby
discouraging others in the community from having a good opinion of, or from
associating or dealing with, that person.
The statement must be substantially false. A statement that is generally true, but
contains a minor error, generally will not be sufficient to support a claim for
result from a statement communicated to a third person either orally or in
A person can sue for defamation
within one year after the casual action occurs.
Officials and Public Figures
Public officials and
public figures, even those who became public figures due to no fault of their
own, such as volunteers in the community, can establish a claim for defamation
only by proving malice. Malice requires
that the speaker have actual knowledge of the false statements, or that the
speaker have obvious reasons for distrusting the accuracy of the information
conveyed. Malice may also be inferred
from surrounding circumstances.
of a Private Individual
Defamation of private
individual requires the plaintiff to prove: the defendant made a defamatory
statement to a third party; that the statement made was false; that the person
making the statement was legally at fault for making the statement; and that
the plaintiff suffered harm. There is no malice requirement for proving
defamation of a private individual. Where the individual defamed is a private
individual, the plaintiff must establish that the speaker should have known the
statement was false.
Per Se and Per Quod
Defamation claims fall
into two general categories: defamation per
se and defamation per quod. Which category the case falls into affects
the plaintiff’s burden of proof at trial.
In a case of defamation per se,
establishing that the speaker made the defamatory statement is sufficient for
the plaintiff to establish its burden.
However, cases involving defamation per
quod require that the plaintiff introduce additional evidence in order to
establish that the defamation occurred.
The nature of the statement itself will determine whether the case is per se or per quod. The important distinction here is whether or
not additional information is necessary to give context to the speaker’s
statement so that the trier of fact can understand the nature of the statement
and the potential harm incurred.
A person who is the subject of a defamatory statement that was
not made with actual malice must show actual damages in the form of financial
loss, injury to reputation, mental anguish, or some other tangible injury, in
order to obtain relief.
When a person is the subject of a defamatory statement that was
made with actual malice there is a presumption that the statement causes that
person harm, and relief may be awarded even in the absence of any evidence of
A person who is the subject of a defamatory statement may be
allowed punitive damages if the defendant published the defamatory statement
with actual knowledge that it was false.
A person who has been the subject of a defamatory statement may
also recover damages from the defendant for injury resulting from his or her
republication of the statement, or for republication by anyone else that was
foreseeable to the defendant.
The judge or jury may consider evidence that the defendant tried
to mitigate damages arising out of a defamatory communication. So a public retraction or correction is
relevant. Additionally, if the plaintiff
provoked the defendant in some manner into making the defamatory statement,
this too can be considered with respect to the issue of damages.
Damages are presumed from a statement which is reasonably
understood to reflect not only on one’s rights to or quality of land, property,
or intangible thing but also reflects unfavorably on that person’s business
reputation, business integrity or on that person’s profession or business.
There are three types of
defenses when it comes to defamation: absolute privilege, qualified privilege,
and consent. Under absolute privilege,
the plaintiff is not allowed to recover damages if the defamation occurs in
judicial proceedings, legislative proceedings, executive publications,
publications consented to, publications between spouses, and publications
required by law. Qualified privileges
are privileges for reporters. Qualified
privileges occur between reporters reporting about proceedings and employer and
employee relationships. However, the reports
must be fair. Consent requires the
person to give actual consent to the defamation. Consent is different from opinion, because consent
is the persons actual words agreeing to the defamation, and is a complete
defense to defamation.
With the explosion of
social media over the past few years, we will likely see an increase in the
number of defamation cases being litigated in Maryland courts. It is possible that there may be changes or
further development of these principals with new cases coming before the
Maryland Appellate Courts. It is always
important to keep in mind, however, to separate statements of fact from those
transmitting opinions. In order give
rise to a claim for defamation, the statement must convey facts, not solely
opinions. Fair and honest opinions which are based upon true facts and
which have some relation to or connection with those facts are also absolutely
privileged. Opinions based on false facts are protected if the publisher was
not guilty of actual malice with regard to these supportive facts
The information contained on
this page is provided as general information and does not constitute legal
advice. The experienced attorneys at
Baldwin & Briscoe, P.C. can assist you if you are involved in a defamation
claim. Contact our office to schedule a
no-obligation consultation to review your rights. A consultation fee may apply.
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