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Defamation is the term used to describe any statement that hurts a person’s reputation. Defamation can be broken down in to two types: (1) written; or (2) spoken. If the statement is written, it is called “libel,” and if the statement is spoken it is called “slander.”

In order to prove defamation, the statement in question must be all of the following:

  • A false statement of fact

The statement in question must not only be a false statement, but the person making the statement must be portraying that statement as a fact. If the statement is not false, then it is not considered damaging. What this means is that if someone is called a “thief” and they in fact stole the item in question, this will not be a false and damaging statement. Also, opinions cannot be used as a basis for a defamation suit because they cannot be proven false. For example, if someone calls the cake you baked the worse cake they’ve tasted, that statement cannot be the basis of a defamation suit because the statement cannot be proven to be false.

  • Published to someone other than the plaintiff

Publication means that the statement must either be seen or heard by a third party. A common misconception is that in order meet the publication requirement the statement needs to be contained in a newspaper, book, or magazine. That is not the case. The statement can be posted on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) or can be made public by simple word of mouth.

  • Injures the plaintiff’s reputation or tends to injure the plaintiff in his or her occupation

The purpose of the right to bring a case for defamation is to recover money for injuries sustained to a person’s reputation for a false statement that someone wrote or said. The statement in question must cause the victim to be shunned, ridiculed, or disgraced by friends, family, coworkers, or colleagues; lose business or work as a result of the statement.

  • Unprivileged statement

Certain statements are considered privileged and those statements cannot be used as a basis for a defamation suit. For example, statements given in court by a witness cannot be the basis of a defamation suit. Courts want people to be able to testify freely and fear being sued privately for something they say while on the witness stand (already subject to the penalty of perjury). Also, politicians are not liable for defamation for statement they make in the legislative process of in official materials.


A claim for defamation may be available for a statement insinuates as well as for what it stands for on its face. It is not necessary that there be a direct and specific statement of improper conduct to be defamation. The fact that a statement may contain an implication or insinuation leaves room for an innocent interpretation as well does not change the fact that it is defamatory. Courts have said that “[s]uch hair-splitting analysis of language has no place in the law of defamation, dealing as it does with the impact of communications between ordinary human beings”. MacLeod v. Tribune Publishing Co. (1959) 52 Cal.2d 536, 547-551.


The statute of limitations is one year from the date the defamatory statement is published. California Civil Procedure Code section 340(3).

Our attorneys are here to help you understand your rights and obtain compensation if those rights have been violated. Call today to receive a free evaluation of your potential defamation case.