Filing a Lawsuit for Slander

If you're the victim of a slanderous and damaging statement, you can file a lawsuit for compensation. Here are the steps you'll need to follow.

Slander (a form of defamation) is a wrongful act where someone makes a false statement of fact (defamatory statement) that injures the reputation of another. If you've been the victim of slander, you're entitled to pursue compensation for any resulting damages. In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the litigation process as it relates to slander claims.

Can You Sue?

Before you run off to court, make sure you have a legitimate claim. Your two biggest hurdles are:

1. showing that the statement was defamatory and not privileged, and

2. proving you were actually harmed.

If you meet the legal requirements, then you can file your lawsuit.

Filing The Lawsuit

Know the Rules of the Road. Before filing a lawsuit, you must carefully read your state’s code of civil procedure and the court’s local rules. If you also have federal claims and wish to file in federal court, then you must read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as well as the particular district’s local rules. In addition, some judges have their own rules called local local rules. You must familiarize yourself with these rules as well. 

Establish Jurisdiction. To file a lawsuit in a particular court, you must first establish personal jurisdiction. This means that the particular state in which you are filing has authority over the defendants. Personal jurisdiction for a slander claim is typically appropriate wherever the effect of the slanderous statement is felt. In recent U.S. decisions, "targeting" of the forum is also required in order to bring a defendant into court in a certain jurisdiction. This means that the defendant intentionally aimed the defamatory statement at an audience in a certain state.

Establish the Venue. Further, you must identify the particular court in which you wish to file your case. For state courts, the venue is typically broken up into counties. In federal court, the different venues are called districts. Venue can be tricky in cases where the statement was made online.

Draft The Complaint. Drafting the complaint essentially entails writing up your prima facie case, including a statement of facts and why jurisdiction and venue are appropriate.)

Serve The Complaint. Once a complaint is filed, it must be served on all defendants. Usually, a plaintiff will pay a registered process server to personally serve the defendant. Follow your state or federal rules precisely. One of the most common ways for a plaintiff, especially a pro se (federal court) or pro per (state court) litigant, to have his or her case dismissed is because of inadequate service.

Await Defendant's Answer. After being served with the complaint, the defendant will have a prescribed amount of time to file an answer. In California, a defendant usually must file a written response within 30 calendar days of being served. In Federal Court, a defendant only has 20 days. A defendant’s answer will typically include defenses, such as truth or expiration of the statute of limitations. 

Discovery

After the defendant files an answer, the litigation progresses into what is called the discovery period. Discovery is a pretrial stage where both sides exchange information in preparation for trial. The length of this period varies according to the type of case and jurisdiction.

Common forms of discovery tools include:

  • interrogatories (questions the other party must answer in writing and under oath);
  • depositions (oral interviews taken under oath by opposing counsel);
  • requests for production of documents;
  • requests for admissions;
  • subpoenas.

Discovery can be very expensive and time consuming. In most slander cases, the costs of discovery make up the bulk of the lawsuit costs. Furthermore, discovery requires in-depth knowledge of evidence rules, as well as an understanding of legal strategy.

Settlement

Most slander cases settle. This typically occurs before trial, by way of negotiations between you (or your attorney, if you are represented) and the defendant (or his or her attorney, if represented by one). Additionally, a case may settle through some form of alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation or arbitration. Occasionally, although rarely, the case may settle even before the complaint is filed because of a persuasively written demand letter.

Trial

If the parties do not settle, the case will proceed to trial. At trial, both the plaintiff and defendant will present their cases through evidence, including witness and expert testimony. Defamation cases are typically questions of fact, so a jury will decide whether or not the plaintiff was defamed and, if so, the amount of injury damages you're entitled to receive.

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