Defamation Lawsuit

If someone has made untrue statements about you, you may be able to file a defamation lawsuit to recover compensation for the harm you’ve suffered. Attorneys who specialize in this area of the law can help you in the wake of a harmful, false statement of fact. Learn more about the defamation lawsuit process, the evidence needed to file one, and factors that affect settlement amounts.

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What Is a Defamation Lawsuit?

A defamation lawsuit is a type of civil lawsuit that allows a person to sue someone for knowingly making harmful and untrue statements about them. A defamation lawsuit is also called a defamation of character lawsuit.

If the lawsuit is successful, the person who has been defamed will receive compensation from the person who made the defamatory comments (the defendant).

In a defamation lawsuit, most states require you to prove the following:

  • The defendant made a false statement about you that they claimed was true.
  • The defendant published or communicated that statement to a third person.
  • The defamation caused harm to your reputation or finances.
  • The defamatory statement is not privileged.

What Is Defamation?

Defamation is a false statement or false claim that causes financial and/or reputational harm to another person.

Although defamation is not considered a crime in most states, it is a tort (a civil wrong).

There are 2 types of defamation:

  1. Libel (written statements)
  2. Slander (oral statements)

Each state varies in its definition of defamation and potential damages. Some states only award actual damages — like emotional distress, lost wages, or public humiliation — and not punitive damages, which are meant to punish a defendant for their conduct.

Here are some defamation lawsuit examples:

  • Calling someone corrupt or a criminal (for example, a thief, rapist, or murderer) on social media
  • Posting a one-sided story with vital facts left out on social media
  • Publishing fake stories about someone that portray them in a negative way
  • Knowingly republishing defamatory content through a shared Facebook post or Twitter retweet
  • Sharing false statements (including text messages) with another person or a Facebook group, damaging a person’s reputation and leading to bullying or harassment

State defamation laws try to balance one person’s First Amendment free-speech rights with another person’s right to protect their name and reputation.

Actual Malice in Defamatory Statements

What differentiates defamation, which is a form of personal injury, from a statement that is simply hurtful? Many people may feel hurt or harmed by a written or spoken statement, yet may not be able to sue the person who made the statement unless they can prove actual malice.

For example, public officials and other public figures cannot win libel cases at all unless they can prove actual malice.

Did you know?

The term comes from the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in the New York Times Co. v. Sullivan in 1964. The court’s ruling said a police chief must show that false statements about him were said with “actual malice.”

The Sullivan court defined actual malice as a defamatory statement said “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”

Eligibility for Defamation Lawsuits

You may be able to file a character defamation lawsuit if you believe your reputation and/or finances have been damaged by an untrue statement.

In addition to recovering damages for the pain and suffering you’ve endured, a lawsuit could help you pursue justice by publicly restoring damage to your reputation and deterring the defendant from defaming someone else in the future.

What Evidence Do You Need for a Defamation Lawsuit?

Like other types of lawsuits, you will need sufficient and relevant evidence to prove your case. You may need to collect direct evidence and circumstantial evidence for a defamation lawsuit.

Direct Evidence

Direct evidence identifies a fact regarding the case. An example of direct evidence is a witness testifying that they read the defamatory statement on Twitter.

You can obtain direct evidence from:

  • Demonstrative evidence: This includes photographs, videos, and charts used to support witness testimony. An example is a timeline showing when the defendant made the defamatory statements.
  • Documentary evidence: This includes any evidence that can be introduced in court as a document like a newspaper, Twitter post, or receipt.
  • Physical evidence: This refers to any material item that has some connection to the defamation trial. Physical evidence is tangible, which means it can be touched, seen, or felt.
  • Testimonial evidence: This is provided by witnesses who can testify that they heard or read the defamatory statement.

Tip: Make sure you save any documentary evidence, especially if it can be deleted. It’s possible that the person who posted the defamatory statement online will delete the content to avoid any repercussions.

Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial evidence is indirect evidence that a court can look at and draw conclusions from. It is the most common type of evidence.

For example, if the defendant had a cat named Max, and the defamatory statement was published by a Twitter user called @ILoveMax, you may be able to use this circumstantial evidence in court to show that the defendant published the defamatory statement.

Did you know?

An apology or retraction from the defendant does not prevent you from suing for defamation. However, it may limit the damages you are awarded.

How to File a Defamation Lawsuit

If you are interested in filing a defamation lawsuit, these are the basic steps.

Consult a Defamation Lawyer

It’s a good idea to speak with an experienced defamation lawyer or law firm to see if you have a valid case. If you are eligible to file a defamation lawsuit, your legal team can collect evidence, interview witnesses, perform legal research, and find experts for your case.

File a Defamation Complaint

Your lawyer can file a complaint in your state’s civil court system within the statute of limitations (deadline for taking legal action). The complaint is the legal document that starts the lawsuit. The defendant will have a short period to file an answer to your complaint.

Exchange Information

During a process called discovery, your legal team and the defendant’s legal team will exchange information about the case.

You may exchange information in the following forms:

  • Physical evidence, such as documents
  • Interrogatories, which are written questions answered under oath, which help both sides learn about potential witnesses and the facts of the case

Negotiate a Settlement

Once both sides have a better understanding of the case, they may decide to settle the defamation lawsuit.

Most defamation suits settle out of court to save money, avoid uncertainty, reduce stress and anxiety, and keep the case out of the public eye.

Try the Case

If you can’t reach a settlement with the defendant, your attorney can take your defamation lawsuit to trial. Your lawyer and the defendant’s lawyer will each present their side of the case, and a judge and/or jury will enter a verdict. If you win your defamation lawsuit, you will most likely be awarded damages.

How a Defamation Lawyer Can Help

A skilled defamation lawyer can be an asset if you’re suing someone for defamation.

Here are some ways a lawyer can help with a defamation lawsuit:

  • Collect evidence: Your lawyer can help gather physical evidence, including documents and digital evidence, to build a strong case.
  • Gather witness statements: Your attorney can collect witness statements by interviewing witnesses, obtaining written statements, issuing subpoenas to legally require witnesses to testify, and conducting depositions (sworn out-of-court testimonies).
  • Research defamation law: Comprehensive legal research can help you understand the specific standards, elements, and precedents that apply to your case. Your lawyer will review case law, statutes, legal opinions, and other resources to ensure they have a deep understanding of defamation law in your state.
  • Find experts for your case: Your lawyer can also seek expert analysis or opinions from professionals who can provide specialized insights or knowledge. Experts for a lawsuit for defamation of character include linguists and industry specialists who can offer opinions on the defamatory statements and their impact.
  • Prepare for the defendant’s arguments: A lawyer can gather evidence to rebut potential defenses to a defamation lawsuit.

An attorney can also defend against allegations of defamation.

3 commonly used defenses in a defamation lawsuit are:

  1. The statement is true.
  2. The statement is an opinion.
  3. The defendant is protected by absolute privilege. Privilege applies to government officials while performing their jobs, judges and attorneys during judicial proceedings, and others.

Defamation Lawsuit Settlements and Verdicts

Defamation lawsuit settlement and verdict amounts vary greatly.

Did you know?

A person may be able to prove defamation but not actual harm. In that case, it’s possible that they may receive nominal damage of $1.

In contrast, high-profile defamation lawsuits that play out in court can end with a multimillion-dollar verdict.

For example, the actor Johnny Depp was awarded $10.35 million in a defamation case against the actress Amber Heard over domestic abuse accusations in June 2022. Heard was awarded $2 million in her countersuit.

In another case that made headlines, Fox News reportedly settled a defamation lawsuit filed in Delaware Superior Court for $787.5 million in April 2023. Dominion Voting Systems had sued the news outlet for $1.6 billion after Fox hosts reported that the company’s voting machines had been programmed against Donald Trump in 2020 and resulted in election fraud.

Here are some factors that can affect settlement and verdict amounts:

  • Economic losses, including lost business opportunities, damage to professional relationships, and lost clients and customers
  • Emotional distress, especially if the defamation led to bullying, harassment, or stalking
  • Extent of harm, which pertains to the nature of the defamatory statement and the degree of damage it caused to your reputation
  • Jurisdiction and location as defamation laws vary from state to state
  • Reputation of the parties involved with prominent public figures with a well-established reputation having a stronger claim for damages
  • Strength of evidence, meaning that well-documented cases with strong evidence are more likely to result in higher settlements and verdicts

Defamation Lawsuit Cost

The cost of getting a lawyer to assist you with a defamation lawsuit depends on several factors, like the complexity of your case and the number of defendants.

It’s important when you work with any lawyer that you understand how much they charge for their services and how they collect fees.

Defamation attorneys may use one of these fee structures:

  • Contingency fee: Under this arrangement, the client does not pay any upfront fees. Instead, the lawyer gets paid by taking a percentage of the client’s settlement or award money, if there is any.
  • Flat fee: Some lawyers charge a flat fee for specific legal services.
  • Hourly rate: Many lawyers charge an hourly rate for services. This rate can vary depending on the lawyer’s expertise, experience, and location.
  • Retainer fee: A retainer fee is an amount of money paid upfront to secure a lawyer’s time. The lawyer deducts fees from the retainer as they work through your case. You may have to pay another retainer once the initial retainer is depleted.

What Is a Defamation Lawsuit FAQs

Are defamation cases hard to win?

Yes, it can be difficult to win a defamation case. As part of a defamation lawsuit, you must prove that the defamatory statement damaged your reputation or finances. You may need experts to testify about the harm that you’ve suffered.

However, working with a skilled defamation lawyer can increase your odds of winning your case.

What are grounds for a defamation lawsuit?

General grounds for a defamation lawsuit are:

  • The defendant made a false statement of fact.
  • The defendant published or communicated the statement to a third person.
  • The defamation caused harm.

When should you file a defamation lawsuit?

You should file a defamation lawsuit as soon as possible. If you wait too long, you may miss your state’s filing deadline. In most states, you have 1 or 2 years to file a defamation lawsuit.

An experienced defamation lawyer can help you file all of the paperwork quickly and accurately before the statute of limitations expires.

Do you need a lawyer to file a defamation lawsuit?

No, you don’t need a lawyer to file a defamation lawsuit. However, by working with a defamation attorney, you’re more likely to be successful.

Defamation lawsuits can be complex. A lawyer has the expertise, experience, and connections to collect evidence to support your case and find experts to prove the psychological effects of defamation.

Written by: makes it easier to take legal action. We have information, lawsuit guides, and breaking news about drugs, products, and other issues that could affect you.

ReferencesView References
  1. Cornell Law School: Legal Information Institute. “Absolute privilege.” Retrieved May 11, 2023 from
  2. Cornell Law School: Legal Information Institute. “Defamation.” Retrieved May 11, 2023 from
  3. Cornell Law School: Legal Information Institute. “Demonstrative evidence.” Retrieved May 11, 2023 from
  4. NPR. (2022, June 1). “Depp is awarded more than $10M in defamation case against Heard and she gets $2M.” Retrieved May 24, 2023 from:
  5. The Hollywood Reporter (2018 November 6). “MSNBC’s Joy Reid at Center of Free-Speech Legal Fight Over Retweets.” Retrieved May 11, 2023 from
  6. Variety (2020 June 26). “Justin Bieber Files $20 Million Defamation Lawsuit Against Two Twitter Users Over Sexual Assault Allegations.” Retrieved May 11, 2023 from

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