What are the defenses to a defamation claim?

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Written By: Jeffrey JohnsonUPDATED: Jul 15, 2021Fact Checked

Ideally you can assert that the remarks never happened or you were not involved in the discussion or writing. Outside of that, there are three main defenses to a defamation claim:

(1) The first is that the statement was privileged, and so must be held in strict confidence. Certain professions (doctors, lawyers, psychologists), or individuals (chiefly your spouse) may maintain a privilege; and if any non-privileged third party was part of the communication, the privilege is broken. Employees of a professional are included to the extent that you needed to use them to contact the professional. Don’t tell your deepest, darkest secret to your attorney’s secretary and expect to maintain the privilege.

(2) The second defense is that the statement is true, for “truth is an absolute defense.” Establishing the truth is the single most effective defense that can be made. If a truthful remark hurts, is embarrassing, or subjects you to ridicule, there is little you can do. Unless the remark is false, you do not have a valid claim.

(3) The third defense is that the statement was an opinion, not an assertion of a fact. This depends on the words used. There’s a world of difference between saying “I think he’s a crook,” and “He’s a crook.” However, a third party may pass on the message without quoting “I think,” and that can weaken the opinion defense.

To find out your best options, consult an experienced libel and slander attorney in your area.

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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

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