Can I sue my husband’s family for slander or defamation of character if they have accused me of something that is absolutely not true?

My husband has been in and out of the hospital for issues with his stomach. His bothers and sisters have decided that he may have been poisoned. They have accused my son and myself of poisoning him. I work with one of my sisters-in-law and also attend church with my in-laws. The accusation is absolutely not true. Can my son and I sue them?

Asked on November 3, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Michigan

Answers:

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

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Defamation is a false statement made with knowledge of its falsity communicated to a third person and the statement is injurious to your reputation.

Slander is spoken defamation.  Libel is written defamation.

If the statement has been communicated to a third person, you and your son could sue for defamation.  If the accusation was made to you and your son, but was not communicated to a third person, then you would not be able to sue for defamation because publication (communication to a third person) did not occur.  When the false statement is communicated to a third person, then you can file your lawsuit for defamation.  Each repetition of the defamatory statement also constitutes defamation.

If your son is a minor, you will need to be appointed guardian ad litem to sue on his behalf because a minor cannot file a lawsuit.  You and your son would file one lawsuit for defamation against your relatives.

Damages means the amount of monetary compensation you are seeking in your lawsuit.  Damages would include mental distress, the loss of friends and associates, and if applicable, physical illness and medical bills. 

The lawsuit must be filed prior to the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations or you and your son will lose your rights forever in the matter.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Defamtion is the public (so to any *third parties*; see below) making of untrue statements of fact which damage a person's reputation, or make others want to not do business with or employee them. Certainly accusing you of poisoning your spouse, assuming you  did not, would be an untrue statement of fact which damages your reputation. The issue is whether they make this statement to third parties--so, for example, to friends, neighbors, coworkers, other congregants at your church, etc.--or only directly to you and your son. If the comments are only made to you, they may be hurtful and hateful, but are not actionable. If they are made to third parties, you may indeed be able to sue them for defamation, and should consult with a personal injury attorney.


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