Defamation of Character in Texas Law Overview
Unless you have spent most of your years living as a hermit in the woods, chances are someone has said something insulting about you with or without your knowledge. While this is part of being human, if not kept in check, these rude remarks can turn into defamation of character and deal more serious damage. They can disrupt someone’s personal life and professional life and even ruin a business.
To avoid these problems, or at least reduce the damage, you might want to fight back. So, if you’re wondering whether you’ve been a victim of defamation of character or if you simply want to find out more about the subject, continue reading to define defamation of character, consider different types of defamation, learn about relevant Texas law, and determine how to restore and protect your reputation.
What Is Defamation of Character in Texas?
According to defamation Texas law, defamation of character is when an individual or a company masks false statements as facts about another individual or company in an attempt to ruin their reputation and otherwise cause serious damage. For instance, if someone spreads a rumor about how corrupt a company owner is, that will seriously damage a company’s reputation and can result in reduced productivity even if the rumor has no basis in reality.
Since defamation is considered a civil lawsuit in Texas, a victim has the right to sue the defamer for any financial injury but can’t appeal to the court to penalize the defendant with fines or prison time. There are two types of defamatory statements: libel and slander.
Also known as written defamation, libel is a written and published defamatory statement that’s usually distributed through social media posts, blog articles, and reviews but also through books, magazines, newspapers, or other written media.
Slander, or spoken defamation, is a defamatory statement that is spoken by the defamer on mass audio-visual media, such as radio, television, and the Internet, but it can also include any transitory type of communication.
Texas Defamation Elements
In cases of defamation lawsuits, the burden of proof is typically on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant who is accused of defamation of character made false statements about the plaintiff to a third party in any form and, as a result, damaged the reputation of the plaintiff.
Also, it must be determined whether the defamatory statement was made out of actual malice or through negligence, which will later affect the judgment and the amount of monetary compensation if the case is won. To do this in Texas, the plaintiff must present the jury with the proof that:
- The statement was published;
- The statement was defamatory and in connection with the plaintiff;
- The defendant made the defamatory statement out of deliberate malice or out of negligence.
Differentiating Defamation Per Se and Per Quod
What differentiates defamation per se and defamation per quod is simply how the ordinary citizen comprehends the statements that are deemed defamatory by the plaintiff. If a person made statements that the average citizen would interpret as ill-mannered and damaging to another person’s reputation, then it is considered defamation per se. Since these statements are actionable on their own, according to Texas defamation of character laws, the malevolence and the damage done don’t have to be proven unless the plaintiff is considered to be a public figure.
Defamation per se statements typically fall into one or more of the following categories:
- Accusations of serious criminal activities;
- Accusations of dubious business dealings;
- Accusations of conduct conflicting with a person’s business, position, or status in society—conduct such as prejudice, discrimination, or stereotyping based on race, ethnicity, or sex;
- Accusations about a so-called lack of chastity or behavior that would be perceived by the public as a kind of sexual misconduct, such as sexual harassment; and
- Accusations about carrying or even spreading an infectious disease—typically sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Conversely, Texas defamation law for defamation per quod requires the plaintiff to prove malicious intent and the damage done by the defendant who is accused of defamation. For instance, rather than stating outright that “the company is run by a pervert,” if a person makes vague or seemingly innocent statements like “don’t do business with the company; the owner likes to have his side dishes young,” this would be considered defamation per quod. Notably, defamation per quod cases can be challenging to prove, especially when quantifying the harm done to the plaintiff’s reputation.
Where to File a Texas Defamation Lawsuit
Since the civil court system in Texas is composed of county courts, the victim of defamation will have to determine which county is the correct jurisdiction to file the case. While the plaintiff chooses where the case will be filed and heard, the defendant has the right to challenge that choice if he or she can prove that the plaintiff’s chosen venue may be improper.
In most cases, a Texas defamation lawsuit can be filed in the following counties:
- The county where the defamatory statement was made or published;
- The county where the defendant resides;
- If the defendant acted in the name of a corporation, the county where the corporation is registered; or
- The county where the plaintiff resided when the defamatory statement was made or published.
What Must Be Proven in a Defamation Lawsuit?
For defamation to be proven, the plaintiff must provide the following:
- A false defamatory statement presented as a fact;
- A publication of the statement since a statement must be published and communicated to a third party in order to be considered defamation—a written publication in a case of libel and an audio-visual publication in a case of slander, such as a television interview;
- A fault that at least amounts to negligence if malevolent intent can’t be proven; and
- A damage or harm that the plaintiff suffered due to the defamatory statement.
If, however, an alleged defamatory statement is determined to be true—no matter how damaging, cold-hearted, or ill-mannered the statement was—according to the slander laws in Texas, the plaintiff will lose his or her defamation lawsuit.
What Are Common Types of Damages in Defamation Matters?
According to the defamation laws in Texas, before beginning a libel or slander lawsuit, the victim must prove that he or she has suffered some sort of damage as a consequence of an alleged defamatory statement. Damages are traditionally measured in a monetary value that can act as compensation for the victim’s financial harm if the victim wins the lawsuit.
There are several types of defamation damages that fall into the following categories:
- Actual Damages—Also called compensatory damages, these are actual, verifiable, and visible damages that the plaintiff has suffered due to defamation of character.
- Presumed Damages—Often associated with defamation per se, these types of damages are presumed in cases where the plaintiff doesn’t need to prove the actual harm.
- Punitive damages—Also known as exemplary damages, these types of damages are meant to punish the defendant for misconduct toward the plaintiff and discourage such conduct in the future.
- Special damages—As the name suggests, these types of damages are special to the situation. Often associated with defamation per quod, these damages must be proven with supporting evidence and specifically stated under the Texas law.
How Long Do You Have To File a Defamation of Character Claim?
If you’ve been a victim of defamation, you have no more than one year to file a defamation lawsuit in Texas. The clock starts as soon as a defamatory statement is created, with or without the victim’s knowledge. Even if a defamatory statement is later republished, there is no way to reset the one-year clock, particularly if the subsequent publications were made using the same medium. Since there is a risk of the statute of limitations running out and of losing an opportunity to ask the court for compensation for damages suffered based on the defamation, it is critical to act quickly.
If you believe that you’ve been a victim of defamation, don’t waste any time. You may save yourself a lot of stress and headaches if you get in touch with a defamation attorney and seek legal advice right away. Unfortunately, fake stories travel faster than true stories, and the damage they can do to an individual’s or business’s reputation sometimes can’t be undone.