What do I need to do in order to sue for slander against a member of my church?

Just before my 17th birthday a 40 – 50 year old man sent a 4 page letter to the church elders containing accusations and suggestions that I was a thief, sexually immoral, and that I promoted devil worship, self harm and suicide. He did this in order to get my father removed as an elder. He had 8 weeks to produce evidence but didn’t because this was all untrue. 14 elders heard this letter read and other members of the congregation knew about the letter before I did. I feel I have been slandered and shunned by people because they were influenced by what they heard. Can I sue?

Asked on September 5, 2011 under Personal Injury, District of Columbia

Answers:

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Since you are a minor, you will need to have your parent or another adult appointed guardian ad litem to file a lawsuit on your behalf because a minor cannot file a lawsuit. 

Libel is written defamation.  Slander is spoken defamation.  Since the defamatory statements were contained in a letter, this would be libel.

Your lawsuit would be for defamation.  Defamation is a false statement made with knowledge of its falsity communicated to a third person, and the statement is injurious to your reputation.

The letter is clearly injurious to your reputation and was a false statement communicated to the elders (third parties) and the congregation (third parties), and the person who wrote this letter did so with knowledge that the statements were false.  The person who wrote that letter is liable for the original publication and any repetitions by others which might have reasonably been anticipated.  For example, the person who wrote the letter and sent it to the elders is liable for the original defamatory letter, but also the repetition by others because the author of the letter would have reasonably anticipated that the elders would read the letter to others.

Those who have repeated the defamatory statement(s) to others are also liable for defamation. 

A disseminator is one who neither originates nor republishes (repeats) the defamation, but merely distributes the material put out by another.  Disseminators are only liable if they knew or have reason to know of the defamatory nature of the material they are distributing.

Your damages (the amount you are seeking to recover in your lawsuit)  would include mental distress, loss of friends and associates resulting from the defamation, (physical illness/ medical bills if applicable).

You will need to file your lawsuit prior to the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations or you will lose your rights forever in the matter. 


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