To sue for defamation of character, a person needs to know the elements of a defamation lawsuit and how to file the lawsuit if he or she has a viable case. To prove defamation, a victim has to show that someone made a false statement about him or her, and the statement was injurious and published. In this context, published means a third party heard or saw the defamatory statement.

Here is valuable information on how to sue for defamation of character.

What Is Defamation of Character?

It is crucial for people to understand what defamation and other intentional torts are before diving into how to sue for defamation of character. Intentional torts are unlawful actions committed on purpose rather than negligently.

Defamation of character, also referred to as defamation, arises when a false statement is made that hurts another person’s reputation. The individual that has suffered the defamatory statement can file a defamation of character lawsuit against the person that made the statement.


The different forms that defamation of character can take can be divided into two main types: libel and slander. Libel is when a defamatory statement is written and published. Slander occurs when false information is stated verbally. So are slander and libel intentional torts? Both these forms of defamation are intentional torts. Other intentional torts include fraud, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, assault, and battery.

Proving Defamation of Character

For people to know when they can sue for defamation of character, it is essential for them to be aware of the elements that they have to prove. Generally, to win a defamation lawsuit, plaintiffs have to prove the following core elements:

  • The defendant made a false statement concerning the plaintiff
  • The statement was published either verbally or in writing to a third party
  • The statement caused injury to the plaintiff
  • The statement was unprivileged

Below is a more detailed look at each element.

False Statements

A statement can only be considered defamatory if it is objectively false. True statements are not regarded as defamation of character. Therefore, a statement that is mean, offensive, or hurts a person’s reputation does not qualify as defamation if it is true. For example, someone telling people that a person’s restaurant gives patrons food poisoning cannot be defamatory if it is true.

Statements of opinion are also usually not defamatory. That is because opinions depend on perspective. For example, a statement such as the food that a person’s restaurant offers tastes bad does not constitute defamation. The bad taste cannot be proven false because it is subjective to the individual who made the statement. 

Nevertheless, a party may not escape liability for defamation if an opinion implies defamatory facts concerning a person’s reputation. If a party combines false assertions of facts with statements of opinions, the statements may be considered slanderous or libelous.

Publication Requirement

A statement is published if a third party has seen, read, or heard the statement. That implies someone else other than the subject of the statement and the person that made the statement was aware of the communication. A statement cannot damage the victim’s reputation if it is entirely private. As a result, a statement has to be published to be considered defamatory.

In this context, oral remarks or loud conversations in public can count as being published just as an article in a newspaper. Speech communicated in social media, gossip, newspapers, radio, television, speeches, books, and magazines qualify as published statements.

Unprivileged Statements

A defamatory statement has to be unprivileged. There are some instances where statements are considered privileged. In such instances, a person cannot sue for defamation even if an offending statement was injurious and false.

For example, the speech of a witness when he or she is testifying at trial is privileged. Witnesses cannot face defamation lawsuits, even if they provide false testimonies in a deposition or courtroom. That helps ensure individuals do not censor themselves when providing testimony out of fear of facing lawsuits.


In defamation of character lawsuits, the statement must be proven to have caused injury to the claimant. The subject of the statement must show that the statement hurt his or her reputation. For example, the statement will have caused injury if the person lost work because of the statement. If a person runs a business, the person can show how the statement hurt him or her financially.

If someone suffers health problems due to the statements being so distressing, that could be proof of injury. Other examples of injury from defamation include being ostracized, being shunned by family or friends, and facing harassment from the media.

Defamation Per Se

In Chicago and the rest of Illinois, certain statements are classified as defamation per se. These are statements so egregious that the victim is assumed to have automatically suffered harm because of them. Statements that are recognized as defamation per se include false accusations that the plaintiff:

  • Committed a crime
  • Has a loathsome communicable disease
  • Is unable to perform his or her work or lacks integrity in performing the work
  • Lacks ability in his or her profession, business, or trade
  • Has engaged in sexual misconduct

How to File a Lawsuit for Defamation of Character

Before filing a lawsuit for defamation of character, it is essential for a person to determine first whether he or she has a valid claim for slander or libel. An excellent way to find a rough answer is to look at the necessary elements for bringing a defamation claim and see whether they can be met.

Speaking with a defamation lawyer is hugely beneficial, as the lawyer can professionally examine the facts of a person’s case to determine if it meets the requirements of a libel or slander lawsuit. The lawyer will also work with the victim to figure out the best strategy and prepare and file the complaint for defamation, which initiates the defamation lawsuit. The complaint sets out the plaintiff’s factual allegations and damages sought.

After the complaint of defamation is filed with the court, the defendant will need to be served with the complaint and a summons. The defendant will then file an answer. The answer is the defendant’s response to the plaintiff’s complaint. In the answer, the defendant typically refutes the plaintiff’s accusations or raises certain defenses that excuse the defendant’s actions.

The court will issue a scheduling order giving the important details in the case, marking the beginning of the discovery phase. During the phase, the two parties will exchange information relevant to the case.

Settling a Case

Settlement negotiations can take place at any stage of the intentional tort litigation process. However, they often occur after both parties have collected the information they needed during the discovery phase. Some defamation cases settle out of court or at mediation.

If the parties reach a settlement agreement, the defamation case may be resolved before trial. If a settlement agreement cannot be reached, an intentional tort attorney may recommend that a person proceeds to trial.

How Much Can People Recover if They Sue for Defamation of Character Damages?

How much a person can sue for defamation damages depends on several factors. The level of financial injury a victim suffered and the available evidence are crucial factors. For example, a real estate agent who lost clients because of a defamatory statement can sue for the commission he or she lost from the clients who opted to work with other agents.

The egregiousness of a defamatory statement can also affect the value of a defamation case. The reputation of the defamed person before the defamatory statement was made is also an issue. If a person had a bad reputation before the defamatory statement was made, that person might not get as much financial compensation in his or her case.

So what damages can be collected in intentional tort cases, such as defamation cases? Just like other personal injury victims, victims of intentional torts like defamation can recover financial losses resulting from the defamation. Lost wages, lost business prospects, and decreased earning capacity are common examples of such damages.

Victims of defamation can also receive compensation for the non-monetary harms suffered. Such damages can include pain and suffering, mental anguish, ostracization, and humiliation. Punitive damages can also be awarded in cases where the defendant’s conduct was particularly egregious or malicious.

For a victim to secure the maximum compensation in a defamation case, it is important for him or her to consult with a defamation lawyer. The lawyer will use expert testimony to help calculate the type of damages that are difficult to prove or quantify, such as a decrease in earning capacity. The lawyer will establish the appropriate calculation of damages in the case and advocate on behalf of the victim to receive a full and fair settlement for the person’s defamation claim.