In California, defamation involves someone making false statements about another, causing harm to the subject’s business, property, occupation or profession. The defamatory statements may be slander, which involves negative or damaging statements that are made by word-of-mouth, or libel, which appears on a fixed medium usually printed in media like magazines or newspapers.
The necessary elements that are required to prove defamation include:
- false statements about a person or business
- published falsehoods furnished to a third party
- damage to the individual or business being defamed
In California, defamation occurs even if it hasn’t been printed as long as it’s been communicated to a third party. California enforces “defamation per se”, which is defamation presumed to cause damages without the need of proof. This often involves attacks on professional character, infidelity, moral turpitude, venereal disease or criminal allegations.
Defamation and public figures
In addition to the aforementioned elements, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires that public figures prove the accused made false statements with “actual malice.” The defamation tort requires proof that the accused knew the statements were false or issued them with reckless disregard for the truth.
Under this business litigation law, “public figure“ extends beyond celebrities and politicians; it may include people who’ve been involuntarily thrust into the public eye simply because of circumstance or their association with others.
Under California law, anything not considered to be defamation per se is classified as “defamation per quod.” This occurs when the statement is not obviously defamatory and requires proof of defamation resulting in special damages. The special damages may include adverse employment consequences, decreased business traffic, interference with contractual relationships, loss of business relationships or lost profits. In California, complainants in defamation cases may be entitled to general, special or punitive damages.