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 defamation. Defamation may result from a statement communicated to a third person either orally or in writing.
A person can sue for defamation within one year after the casual action occurs.
Public 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.
Defamation 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.
Defamation 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 actual damages.
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.