Defamation of Character in Utah is a civil action used to enforce damages related to lowering one’s reputation in the community. So what is considered libel / slander in Utah? The law of defamation revolves around the first amendment and the protection of the first amendment in the United States Constitution as well as the Utah Constitution.
There are two terms related to Defamation under Utah defamation law. Libel and slander. What is the meaning of libel and definition of liable and slander? Utah libel law is the written defamation of character lowering one’s reputation in the community. Utah slander law are words that were spoken that lowered one’s reputation in the community.
There is a one year statute of limitations of when the injured person knew or should have known about the defamatory statement. Given the short timing for a defamation claim, it is important to reach out to our Utah law firm and defamation attorney for a consultation on your claims as soon as possible.
Elements of Defamation of character / Libel / Slander in Utah
The statement must be about you.
There are several defamation elements you must prove in Utah if you sue someone and file a legal action in court for Defamation to prevail.
First, you must prove that the statement was about you. This means that one or more recipients of the statements, besides yourself, must actually understand the statement to be referring to you.
The statement must be published.
The statement must also be “published.” Published means the statements were communicated to someone other than you. If someone told you something that was false about you one-on-one that would not be sufficient to prove the publication part of a defamation claim. The publication though can be oral, written or non-verbal. Written publication includes statements that are printed physically, electronically or digitally which includes, newspapers, books, internet, letters, memorandums, ect.
The statement must be false.
You must also prove that the statement was false. If the statement is true then you cannot recover. One of the main defenses to a defamation claim is that the statement is true. In order for the statement to be false, the statement but either be directly untrue or that it implies a fact that is untrue. The statement must also be materially false, meaning that it must be false is a way that matters and not just minor or irrelevant inaccuracies. In order to prove the statement is true, it only needs to be substantially true, meaning that the “gist of the statement is true.
Also, if the statement is just an opinion or belief rather that a statement of fact, it is also protected by the Utah Constitution and cannot support a defamation claim. A statement of opinion can be defamatory if it implies facts that can be proven to be false.
The statement must be defamatory.
The statement also must be defamatory, meaning that the statement calls into question a person’s honesty. Some examples of defamatory statements are, if someone is called a liar or was accused of doing something that was dishonest, or their integrity, virtue or reputation that exposes that person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule. A publication that is unpleasant, embarrassing or uncomplimentary might not necessarily be a defamatory statement.
Privilege defense and truth defense.
The main defenses are that the statements are / were true and or that the statements were privileged. Under privilege, there are several types of privilege.
There is conditional privilege which can include the public interest privilege, meaning that it involves an issue that the public at-large has interest in and affects the public at large, as well as the police report interest, and family relationships interests, the fair report privilege and the neutral report interest. Whether or not a privilege applies is based on the context and basis and circumstances surrounding the publication. There are also privileges related to internal investigations and complaints within a business or government or to certain executives or government officials.
In a Utah employment law setting, a business may have some kind of immunity if it relates to an internal investigation depending on the context of the statement as well as the context of the person that made the statement or publication. There also may be some other related defenses and would be good to contact our Utah Employment law firm on specifics of your case to know if a business context statement was defamatory.
You can sue the person who said the statement specifically at work as well as try and sue the company as well. Some cases around the United States where a person has prevailed for a workplace defamation suit includes a case where a supervisor branded an employee as a thief. A teacher also prevailed with the false claim that he was fabricating false students records that he claimed led to the loss of a promotion and ultimately his position.
However, suing your business for defamation can be trickier than just suing the individual and it would depend on the circumstances of the situation, the role the person held and or whether or not the company directed the person to make the statement. The only advantage to suing the company itself if they may have more of the economic means to make you whole with the damages you incurred.
If the defamatory statement was made by an official announcement within the company the company could be held liable for it.
Suing a social media company such as facebook, twitter or google such as for a google review or a social media post from one of its users for libel and slander is tricky as well. Typically, those companies write terms and conditions that do not hold them liable for statements made by one of their users and would require an experienced defamation attorney such as our law firm to further review the circumstances to see if those companies could be held liable for it.
The individual from the account could be held liable for the statement though but one issue though is always locating where that person resides to properly have them served and respond to a Utah defamation lawsuit and if that person has the means to properly compensate you for the damages you incurred. One thing that is important to think about, is if you win a suit for defamation, will the person that injured you actually pay and be able to pay any judgment that may be brought against them in a Utah court.
If there is a privilege that is conditional, that typically means that you have to prove a higher amount of fault toward that individual. If you are a private individual, you have to prove that not only was the statement published, but that the statement was made in malice, meaning that the person that published the statement knew that the statements were false or had serious doubts on whether or not the statements were true.
If there is no applicable privilege, and you are a private individual, then the only thing that needs to be proven typically is that the statement was published which is known as strict liability, no matter whether it was done intentionally or not.
Burden of proof for public / private individuals.
If you are not a private individual, meaning that you are a known government official, or if you are a known celebrity or a private individual that has some kind of notoriety in the community, or if the issue published is a matter of public concern, even if you are a private individual, then you may have to prove something higher than just publication which would either be negligence or malice. This hierarchy of fault is based on the United State’s interpretation of defamation law and how it intertwined within the first amendment.
You must prove you were damaged by the defamatory statements.
Also, in order to prevail, you must also prove that you were damaged. There are two terms, Utah slander and libel per se, which means that the certain statements don’t require an actual proof of damages and that the law presumes that some types of damages are inherently damaging, where a person is entitled to at least one dollar in damages.
Libel / Slander per se.
If it is more than just a dollar, then the person must prove the actual amount of the damage. Nominal damages are for cases that typically involve statements that are related to 1. Criminal conduct. (Such as a claim where someone was convicted of a crime when they were only charged with a crime). 2. Having contracted a loathsome disease. 3. Unchaste behavior (but only if the plaintiff is a woman. Or 4. Conduct incongruous with the exercise of a lawful business, trade profession or office.
To prove damages, you have to prove actual and specific economic monetary loss. This can include loss of employment, salary, income, business or out-of-pocket expenses and losses. This must be proven with specific evidence, such as showing a loss of salary with a difference with paystubs and showing a connection between the salary difference due to the defamatory statements and the paystub difference. It could also include medical expenses if it caused any kind of physical or medical injury. This can be proven with loss of business such as a loss of a client showing that the loss was specifically due to the defamatory statement.
If one can prove economic loss, either through slander and liber per se or through actual proof of economic loss, then they can also be entitled to non-economic damages. You don’t have to prove non-economic damages to recover for economic damages, but you have to prove economic damages in order to recover for non-economic damages. This includes damages to reputation, impaired standing in the community, humiliation, shame, mental anguish, crying, fear, depression, anger, stress, anxiety, feelings of hopeless and helplessness, and physical injury related to the statements. It can include changed relationships with loved ones or change of your life activities. This is typically the “pain and suffering” damages.
One can also recover punitive damages if the actions were done knowingly, intentionally, maliciously or was recklessly indifferent toward you. Punitive damages are awarded by the court. They are used to punish the wrongdoer for the acts they did and to deter any future acts as well. The award is discretionary by the court and can be dependent on how much the person or company can actually pay as well as other factors. Also, usually, punitive damages are split with the Plaintiff and with the state.
Other related Utah civil privacy causes of action related to Defamation
There are also other Utah civil claims related to defamation of character. Defamation law is related to other civil claims which are known as “Privacy” civil claims. In addition to defamation and libel and slander law, this includes a similar cause of action known as false light. There is also intrusion upon seclusion, misappropriation of one’s name or likeness, such as using someone’s image or name for a profit without that person’s written consent, publicity to private facts which is also similar to defamation and libel and slander, except one does not need to prove that the disclosure was related to any false statements.
Contact our Utah Defamation law firm and attorney today for further consultation and expertise on your defamation / slander / libel questions.