In the State of Indiana, defamation is not defined by statute. It’s a common law offense that can be broken down into four distinct elements. To establish defamation, you need to show:
- a statement with defamatory imputation;
- publication; and
Let’s look a little closer at what each of these elements actually means.
A Statement with Defamatory Imputation
This is a lawyerly way of describing an accusatory statement that would tend to lower a person’s reputation in the community. For example, the statement Attorney Marc Lopez kicks puppies is potentially defamatory. Cruelty is not usually seen as a matter of taste, and puppy-kickers can expect their public standing to take a hit.
In the context of defamation, malice can refer to one of two things. The speaker either:
- knew their statement to be false; or
- made their statement with a reckless disregard for whether it was true or not.
So the malice element can be fulfilled by carelessness (I don’t know anything about Attorney Marc Lopez, but I impulsively tell people he kick puppies.) just as easily as intentionally spiteful conduct (I know that Attorney Marc Lopez loves puppies, but I tell people he kicks them.). This prevents the defendant from claiming ignorance and using it as a shield.
This is a little confusing because we tend to associate the word publish with print media. That’s not what it means here. A statement does not need to appear in the tabloids before it qualifies as defamation.
For our purposes, publication simply means to make public. In other words, it means communication with another person. Spoken word, phone call, text message—these all potentially count as publication.
If you’re able to show these three things, you still need to worry about proving damages. What has this defamation cost you? Were contracts canceled? Are there other potential earnings you missed out on?
Make the Right Call
Defamation cases are uphill battles, so if you’re planning for this type of fight, don’t do it on your own. Call an experienced trial attorney and at least discuss your options. If you’re considering a defamation claim, give us a call at 317-632-3642. Stay safe and look out for each other.