Defending Your Reputation & Your Livelihood
At Marathon Law, we know that defamation is a very serious offense that can damage your reputation and livelihood. This damage can cause both economic harm and serious emotional distress, especially if your livelihood depends on your reputation and good character. Defamation can ruin the integrity and trustworthiness you’ve spent years building, which can affect how those around you view you. This can threaten not only your livelihood but your happiness as well.
Those clients who have the most potential to be harmed by defamation include public figures, such as celebrities, professional athletes, politicians, high-ranking public employees, and community and business leaders, but they are by no means the only people who can be hurt by defamation. If you’re not one of these highly-visible public figures, proving that you’ve been defamed is actually easier because the standards are not quite so high for private individuals.
That said, you do need a defamation lawyer who is experienced in reputation litigation, and one who can navigate the murky waters of the First Amendment, media, the Internet, and, last but certainly not least, a lawyer who can guide you through the entire litigation process from start to finish.
Defamation of Character Law in Colorado
Slander v. Libel
When false statements are negligently made about a private individual, those statements can tarnish the individual’s reputation, resulting in both economic and emotional damage. In general defamation is broken down into two categories:
- Slander, which is an oral statement;
- Libel, which is a written statement.
One key element of this type of claim is that the defamatory statement must be made to someone other than the person who is the subject of the statement. For example, the statement could be published in a newspaper article or posted on Facebook; it could be spoken to an audience or made on television.
Each potentially damaging slanderous or libelous statement is considered a separate act of defamation.
If you’re a private citizen suing for defamation in a private matter, you must prove that the person making the defamatory statement was negligent with regard to the truth or falsity of the statement. You don’t have to prove that the person knew for a fact that the statement was false.
Whereas, if you’re a public figure bringing a defamation lawsuit, you have to prove that the person making the defamatory statement knew for a fact that the statement was false or that the statement was made with reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of the statement.
Qualified or Absolute Privilege May Preempt a Lawsuit
There are certain situations where you may not be able to charge a person with defamation, including but not limited to the following examples:
- If a public employee unintentionally defames a private person, they can claim qualified privilege from from a defamation claim unless you can prove actual malice. Example: If a police officer, in a case of mistaken identity, claims that an individual committed a crime when the person did not commit a crime, the police officer can’t be charged with defamation.
- People who make statements during, or pursuant to, a judicial proceeding can claim absolute privilege and are therefore immune from any claims of defamation. Example: A parent tells an outright lie in a divorce hearing. Or a witness knowingly names a false criminal defendant.
Absolute and qualified privilege are complex concepts and rely very heavily on the facts of each case.
Defamation Per Quod vs. Defamation Per Se
With a defamation per quod claim, the context of the alleged defamatory statements needs to be examined and the occurrence of defamation needs to be proven first. Then, monetary damages resulting from harm to your reputation need to be proven as well. These are called “special damages.”
Defamation per se is different. A statement that is defamatory per se does not need outside context for its interpretation. The statement is defamatory on its face. The good thing about defamation per se cases, however, is that damages are presumed and do not have to be proven.
Colorado recognizes four categories of statements that are defamatory per se:
- Criminal accusations;
- Accusations of professional misconduct or misconduct during time in public office;
- Accusations of a communicable disease;
- Accusations of sexual misconduct, including adultery.
Statute of Limitations and Defenses
The statute of limitations on a defamation claim is one year from the date that the defamatory statement was published.
If the person who made the statement can prove the truth of the statement, then that’s a complete defense against your claim.
Types of Possible Damages in a Defamation Claim
Any monetary damages in a defamation claim must be connected to the material harm that has been suffered by the victim. Loss of potential employment, business opportunity, lost wages, or lost profits are all recoverable claims in a defamation case.
Psychological damage can also affect the victim of defamation. In this case, medical costs related to treatment, such as psychiatric care and counseling, will be included in the request for damages.
You could also request exemplary (also known as “punitive”) damages in the state of Colorado. Exemplary damages are limited – they can’t exceed the amount of compensatory damages awarded. These types of damages are intended to discourage defamatory behavior in the future.
Your Legal Options
If you’ve been defamed by either libel or slander, and substantial financial and emotional harm has been done to you, you need an attorney who is well-versed in Colorado’s defamation laws. A defamation attorney can do things such as write a cease-and-desist letter that explains the legal consequences of defamatory actions, and demand that the person defaming you stop immediately.
An attorney may also seek to have the defamatory statement retracted. Your defamation attorney will evaluate your economic and emotional damages to see whether they warrant filing a lawsuit. They will discuss whether certain other claims apply to your case, such as:
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress;
- Interference with contract or business expectancy;
- Negligence per se;
If any of these claims apply to your case, they may be combined with your defamation per se or defamation claim.
The attorneys at Marathon Law have the experience you need. We’ll discuss your legal options, and let you know if we believe you have a strong case. Call us at (303) 704-1222 or request a consultation here.