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What is Slander?

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Slander is one of two types of defamation, which is issuing a false statement about another person that causes that person harm or damage. One type of defamation is slander, the other is libel. Slander is verbally or orally telling one or more people an untruth about another person that causes harm to that person’s reputation or standing in his community. Libel is using a written or broadcast medium to spread lies about a person.

While slander is not a crime, it is a civil matter and can become the basis for a lawsuit. Damages in a slander case are difficult to prove, so a monetary award is usually going to be for actual damages, also known as special damages, only. Special damages provide compensation for monetary losses resulting from slander.

If there is malicious intent the award can be higher. In these cases general damages, which is payment for emotional trauma or distress, can also come into play. Malicious statements that are presumed to cause damage, called per se damage, include the following:

Attacks on a person’s professional character or accusing someone of unethical business practices

  • Accusing someone of cheating on his or her spouse
  • Accusing someone of having contracted a sexually transmitted disease
  • Accusing a person of committing a crime of moral turpitude, such as prostitution, indecent exposure or sexual assault

A defendant in a slander lawsuit can defend himself by proving that the allegations are true. The truth is always an absolute defense to a defamation case, meaning a person cannot be defamed by true statements. Privileged statements, including statements made in court by a judge, witness or lawyer or by a legislator on the floor of the legislature, are not subject to defamation or slander charges.

Except in cases of clear defamation that causes significant and quantifiable monetary damages, a slander lawsuit is rarely a good idea. Slander can be difficult to prove, making it difficult to win the lawsuit. If a person sues for slander and loses, then the general public will assume that the damaging statements are true, even if they are completely false. Even if the complainant wins the lawsuit, the damages awarded are often less than the accumulated legal fees.

Another reason not to sue for slander is that a lawsuit will make the false statements part of the public record and available to a much wider audience than before. If a news outlet mentions the lawsuit and the cause of it but not the outcome of the case, many more people will hear the damaging statements but not necessarily learn that the statements were false.

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