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Defamation

 

Defamation is a legal term that includes both libel or slander: the publication (whether written or oral) of false statements which are likely to injure the reputation of another. The nature of comments that can hurt someone’s reputation can vary widely, so there is no one answer as to what is defamatory. Negative comments about someone’s honesty, morality, or skill can be defamatory. Insulting someone to their face, privately, is not defamatory; the comments must be shared with a third party (someone other than the speaker and the subject of the comments).

What COULD HAPPEN IF SOMEONE COMMITS DEFAMATION?

 

If someone commits defamation, they could be sued in court. As is the case for many civil claims, the consequence for proven wrongdoing is typically a court order that requires payment of money from the person who made defamatory comments to the defamed person. It is difficult to say how much money might be at stake. Damages for successfully proving defamation may compensate the plaintiff (the person who starts the lawsuit) for the harm to their feelings, to their reputation, and for expenses or losses incurred because of the defamatory comments.

However, any amount of money claimed in the expenses and losses category must be proven and “quantified”, meaning it must be assessed and connected to a specific number. For example, if a business can prove it lost 30% of their sales because of a defamatory statement, they could try to sue the person who made the defamatory comments for the value of that decline in sales. Proving the link between cause and effect can be challenging.

The amount of damages owing may be decreased if the defendant (the person who made the comments) promptly apologizes. On the other hand, more money might be required if the defendant’s conduct was, in the court’s view, particularly bad.

hOW CAN I SUE SOMEONE FOR DEFAMATION?

 

Bringing a defamation claim in Newfoundland and Labrador can be complicated and expensive for many reasons.

First, it’s important to verify whether the comments in question actually apply clearly and specifically to you. If the comments are made generally, it might be challenging to show that you, specifically, have been harmed – which is a requirement for any lawsuit to proceed. Second, a defamation claim must be filed in the Supreme Court, and specific rules must be followed under the Rules of Supreme Court. These rules can be found online here: https://www.assembly.nl.ca/legislation/sr/regulations/Rc86rules.htm. Many civil claims can be heard in the Small Claims division of Provincial Court, but this option is not available for a defamation claim.

Another important note is that there is s a very brief time limit for starting a defamation action. If you are thinking of suing someone for defamation, you should consult a lawyer for their opinion on the wisdom and timing of doing so as soon as possible.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that if you lose your defamation claim, you are likely to have to pay a share of the other party’s lawyer’s fees.

hOW CAN I DEFEND MYSELF AGAINST A DEFAMATION CLAIM?

 

Defences to defamation include fair comment, justification, and qualified privilege.

Fair comment: A comment is the subjective expression of opinion which is generally incapable of proof. In order to be fair, it must be shown that the facts upon which the comment is based are truly stated, and that the comment is an honest expression of opinion relating to those facts. The comment must be made on a matter of public interest.

Justification: If a person being sued for defamation can prove that their comments were substantially true, they have an absolute defence to the plaintiff’s claim of defamation. This means that a person offended by the remarks will not be able to win their defamation case.

Qualified privilege: If the statements were made on an occasion where the person who makes a communication has an interest or legal, social, or moral duty to make it to the person to whom it is made, and the person to whom it is so made has a corresponding interest or duty to receive it, the presumption that the defamatory statement was malicious is rebutted.

Another important note is that a full apology, made before the commencement of the defamation action, can mitigate (lower) the damages that a person may owe. A prompt apology may reduce the risk for the defendant, and the potential reward for the plaintiff.

Frequently Asked Questions