The Paradox of Defamation and First Amendment Protection Explained
One of a business’s most valuable assets is the names and reputations of its owners, operators, and employees. Defamation laws are there to protect those whose lives have been affected by published false and damaging claims. The impact could be on their reputations, careers, income, or health. It would be in your best interest to hire an experienced defamation lawyer in South Carolina to handle your defamation case or that of your business.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees everyone the right to free expression. Yet, defamation laws often overlap with those laws. Defamation laws and the rights guaranteed by the constitution may conflict when false statements inflict actual harm. A business slander litigation attorney from Brewer Law Firm can help you understand your rights and legal options.
How Are Defamation Claims Limited By The First Amendment?
South Carolina law allows recovery for publishing false statements of fact that damage or lessen your reputation, character, or standing in the community. Types of defamation include:
- Libel which is the act of disparaging someone in writing
- Slander which is the act of disparaging someone through spoken word
- Disparaging a company or business such as to harm its relationship with customers and clients or harm its goodwill and financial interests.
Under the First Amendment, laws or other government actions only have partial protection from violating defamation. The right to speak freely and without fear of retaliation is as crucial as the right to safeguard people from harm following false remarks.
Let’s examine this delicate balance in this post. But remember to speak to a business litigation attorney near you for in-depth details of a defamation lawsuit.
How Do Defamation Rights Under The First Amendment Apply?
According to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, the rule against defamation “reflects little more than our fundamental conception of the inherent dignity and worth of every human being.” Stewart advised judges to consider a person’s right to preserve their reputation while still allowing “breathing space” to develop the first amendment right to free speech.
As we mentioned earlier, defamation is making false statements of fact about another person. A person makes these statements knowing that it would bring the reputation of the other to discredit or ridicule. This kind of speech is not prohibited under defamation laws. However, the law allows a person harmed by those words to seek damages for the harm they sustained instead.
The possibility of legal repercussions for defamation may discourage free speech. Judgment decides whether your case can move forward or is protected by the First Amendment and thus, barred from suit. That is why you need a skilled defamation lawyer.
The defamation action is over if the defendant can show that the claim was true. No matter how unpleasant or embarrassing the truth may be, you cannot penalize them for stating it. The existence of the truth always negates a defamation claim.
Defamation Rules for Private and Public Figures
The law handles ordinary people and public personalities in different ways when it comes to slander prosecutions. Celebrities and other groups who have made themselves the subject of public scrutiny have more to prove. These people often make headlines and are the subject of media attention, so they have implied consent to public discussion.
These public figures, therefore, have a heavier burden of proof in defamation lawsuits. They mainly have to show “actual malice.” This means that for such a person to prevail in a lawsuit, they must show more than the fact that the claims made against them were untrue. They also must prove that the defendants published them intentionally or with gross negligence. Public personalities need to prove the accused behaved without regard to whether the statement was true or untrue.
Some people can end up in the spotlight without planning. An example is someone who has been charged with a notorious crime. So, it’s crucial to remember that not everyone chooses to be in the spotlight. Yet, those people may still encounter extra challenges in establishing their defamation claims.
To find out if you have a strong case or whether your words may have free speech protection, speak with an expert attorney from Brewer Law Firm. First Amendment problems can pose significant impediments to defamation claims.
First Amendment Protected Opinion
The First Amendment generally safeguards statements of opinion. The big question is what counts as an opinion. Does using words like “in my view” before making a statement that could otherwise appear defamatory make it an opinion? It does not. Adding a few qualifying phrases does not allow people to say whatever they want and receive protection for their statements.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, a statement could be an opinion that deserves protection when:
- It pertains to a matter of public concern
- It is expressed in a way that makes it difficult to establish whether it is true or false
- It cannot be reasonably interpreted as a factual statement about someone
Courts often consider several circumstances, such as how detrimental the defendant delivered the statement while applying this test.
The courts also consider whether there is enough evidence to support the claim to prove it accurate or incorrect. If they cannot show whether it is true or incorrect, they will likely regard it as an opinion and dismiss the claim.
Contact A Defamation Attorney In Charleston, SC, Today!
Defamation laws allow people to speak freely on significant subjects while shielding them from the actual harm that false statements can do. Due to the way technology has changed how people communicate, it is a complex field of law that is ever-changing. Contact a business litigation attorney from Brewer Law Firm for more information about defamation, slander, and libel.
Let us discuss your alternatives if someone is making false claims about you or your business. Our professional lawyers will give you legal advice on whether, when, and where to bring a case. Call us today at 843-779-7454 or fill out our online contact form to get your free initial consultation on your defamation case.