Imagine that your business starts dropping off – at first, you aren’t sure what the problem is, but then, you learn that your competition has been telling potential customers that you are selling shoddy goods and ripping people off.
Or – you find that multiple websites contain content that is negatively reviewing your products or services – you know that the statements are false and you know who is making them, but what can you do?
It’s just business … right?
Purposely (and falsely) tearing someone down is called defamation, and there are several things that your SC defamation lawyer at Coastal Law can do to protect your reputation including obtaining a civil injunction and filing a lawsuit for damages for defamation, intentional interference with a business relationship, or other civil causes of action.
Libel and Slander In South Carolina: The Myths
The first myth to dispel about defamation in South Carolina is that you can go to jail for it – although the South Carolina Code provides for criminal penalties for libel in SC Code 16-7-150, it is rarely if ever enforced and police are not likely to take a person to jail for defaming you or your business.
The problem with criminal enforcement of libel laws should be fairly obvious – truthful statements are absolutely protected by the First Amendment, police and the criminal courts do not want to get involved in business disputes, and the danger of constitutional violations and resulting civil rights lawsuits is extremely high.
Next, just because someone has defamed you does not mean that we have a lawsuit. We can take action to remove the defamatory statements if they are on websites or other printed materials, but, if the defendant has no ability to pay and there is no insurance coverage, you don’t have a viable lawsuit.
When Can You Sue for Defamation in SC?
If a person or company has made defamatory statements about you or your business, and that person or company has the ability to pay a judgment against them, you can sue them for money damages to compensate for the damage that they have done to your business or reputation.
A lawsuit for defamation covers both libel and slander – the difference between libel and slander is in how the untruths are communicated.
Libel occurs when a person with bad intentions writes or distributes a false statement about another person which harms that individual’s character or reputation.
Slander occurs when an individual with malicious intent utters or speaks a false statement about another person which injures that person’s reputation or character.
The Legal Requirements
Acts of defamation must meet specific requirements to justify a lawsuit. So in addition to slander being spoken and libel being written, all statements in a defamation case must have been:
- Intentional: You purposely spread the information knowing it was false.
- False: The statement can’t have any basis in truth.
- Harmful: The false statements must cause injury or tend to cause harm.
Defamation laws exist to balance First Amendment rights to free speech with the potential harm that people may suffer when others tell lies about them.
Libel, Slander & Public Figures
Accusing people of libel or slander is more difficult for public figures such as politicians, actors, performers and the CEOs of large corporations. In addition to demonstrating that statements made about them were intentional, false, and harmful, public figures have to prove that the accused individual acted with actual malice, a standard that the U.S. Supreme Court defined in the case N.Y. Times v. Sullivan in 1964.
What Kind of Damages can I Recover for Libel and Slander?
In a lawsuit for defamation, the defendant can be made to pay any damages that are a consequence of the defamatory statements.
Economic damages that can be calculated and presented to jurors through witness testimony or experts may include:
- Lost earnings;
- Loss in future earning capacity;
- Lost business opportunities;
- Loss of clients or future clients;
- Loss of employment benefits; or
- Loss of a job or inability to gain new employment.
Non-economic damages that a defamation defendant may be liable for can include:
- Pain and suffering, anxiety,
- Reputational damage and harm to standing in community; and
- General damages – even when it is difficult to establish the exact amount of damages, a defamation plaintiff is entitled to recover some amount of general damages for the defamatory statements.
Repair Your Reputation: Hire a Lawyer to Fight for You
If your reputation or business is being hurt by defamatory statements, whether they are printed, verbal, or online, your SC defamation lawyer in Myrtle Beach can help you to determine whether you have a lawsuit, help you to remove the defamatory statements from the internet, file a lawsuit for damages, and ask the court for a preliminary injunction to prevent further damage.
Call the lawyers at Coastal Law today at (843) 488-5000 or fill out our online form to set up a free consultation about your case.