Defamation: Understanding Libel, Slander, and NC Law

  1. Personal Injury
  2. Defamation: Understanding Libel, Slander, and NC Law

Defamation occurs when a statement, spoken or written, causes harm to an individual. This falls under the category of civil disputes, called tort law. Even further, defamation of one’s character is considered personal injury because of its impact on an individual’s reputation. 

While defamation can take many different forms, it can be classified into two different forms: libel and slander. Defamation is classified as libel when the defamatory statement is written, while slander is spoken or communicated between two individuals. In North Carolina, defamation must meet four elements for a claim. The plaintiff must allege that: (1) the defendant caused injury to the plaintiff’s reputation; (2) the defendant made a false, defamatory statement; (3) the statement was of or concerning the plaintiff; and (4) the statement was published to a third party.

Within defamation law, the harm suffered must be damage to the individual’s reputation. Here, the person bringing the lawsuit would be considered the plaintiff. For harm to exist, the plaintiff must experience an injury to his or her reputation that is more than just hurtful feelings as a result of the statement being spoken or published in some form. Rather, the plaintiff must experience harm to reputation or character because of the false statement. 

For a statement to be defamation, the statement must be untrue. Within defamation law, there is a differentiation between fact and opinion. For a statement to qualify as defamation, it must be a false statement of fact rather than an opinion. Regardless of the nature of an opinion statement, it is not considered defamatory unless the statement of fact is false. 

A defamatory statement must concern the plaintiff. While it does not have to specifically refer to an individual by name, as long as the individual is ascertainable and concerns the plaintiff, it may satisfy the first element of defamation.

Another element of defamation is the publication of the statement to a person other than the plaintiff. For the statement to satisfy this element, the defamatory statement must be communicated to a third party. A communication to the plaintiff or someone representing the plaintiff by request does not qualify as a statement published to a third party for defamation. 

Certain categories of statements qualify as libel per se when taken alone claims that the plaintiff (1) has committed a crime, (2) has an infectious disease, (3) the defendant challenges the plaintiff’s business, profession, trade, or practice; and (4) the defendant otherwise subjects the plaintiff to condemnation. These statements are deemed to be so obviously defamatory that they qualify as defamation. Under North Carolina law, libel per se publication presumes the existence of damages. 

King Law Offices is a full-service law firm with an outstanding team of professionals who work diligently, creatively, and compassionately on behalf of our clients each day. If you have a current conflict with your title or your deed, contact King Law at 888-748-KING (5464) for a consultation. We have offices located across North Carolina and South Carolina. We are here to serve you and to guide you as we navigate this journey together. 

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