Are insults and epithets considered defamation under the law?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Insults and epithets are usually not considered to be defamatory because they are emotional outbursts and the intent of the person is to show displeasure or dislike. They are not normally meant to harm the person to whom they are directed, so would not generally meet the criteria required under the law for a defamation suit. 

What Defamation Is

Defamation is, by nature, a false statement made to sound true and meant to cause harm. Examples may include subjecting a person to ridicule or contempt and/or causing him to be shunned or avoided. Defamation could also cause injury to the victim in his occupation. Defamation can also be directed at businesses, organizations, governments, nations, or even products.   

Slander and libel are the two types of defamation. 

  • Slander is a statement made by speaking words, using sign language, or making gestures or sounds.  
  • Any other form of defamation, like in printed words or pictures, is called libel.  

What Defamation Isn’t

Opinions are not usually considered to be defamations, especially if they don’t include specific facts that can be shown to be false. If they are expressed as if they were factual, but are not, and if the person making them knows his opinions are not based on facts, then calling them opinions does not change the fact that they are defamatory. In other words, starting out saying, “This is just my opinion” will not keep the statement from being defamatory if it really is. 

Critiques of plays, restaurants, movies, etc. are also not considered defamatory but would go under the heading of opinions. Even though they can be damaging to a business or a person’s image, they are still opinions.   

Getting Help for Defamation Lawsuits

Although insults and epithets may not be considered defamatory in most cases, there are always exceptions. If you have been the victim of an insult or epithet, you should consider scheduling a consultation with a lawyer to determine if you have a valid claim.

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