When Words Hurt Us

June 9, 2023
Sam Cook

We all know the adage that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” While this may be true in certain instances, it certainly does not apply when someone defames your business. As a result of someone recklessly defaming your company or its products, your business could suffer serious economic loss—in some situations, its reputation could be irreparably harmed. Fortunately, you have the right to sue those who have defamed your business and receive compensation. See below to find out if harmful statements made about your business could qualify as defamation and what steps you can take to fight back.

Defamation Defined

In defamation law, you have the power to sue on your company’s behalf when it has been defamed. Generally speaking, defamation is defined as a false statement published by an individual or institution about another individual or institution that does harm to their reputation. Let us break down a few of the terms in that definition:

Published: In this case, the word “publish” is used in the broadest sense to mean “distributed to others.” In the age of social media, information can be spread instantly through a variety of different mediums and formats, all of which are capable of defamation.

False: For a statement to qualify as defamatory, it must be false, and to be false it must be a statement of fact, not opinion. For example, if someone says that your car dealership “is the worst” you cannot charge them for defamation because being “the worst” is a statement of opinion. However, if someone instead says that your dealership “only sells lemons” you may be able to sue them for defamation, since whether a car is a lemon is based on fact.  

Fortunately, unless your business is sufficiently well-known or influential to achieve the status of a public figure, you are not responsible for proving that the claims made about your business are false; instead, the person who has defamed you must prove their statement was true.  

About another: This one may seem obvious, but sometimes the key dispute of a defamation claim centers around whether the defamatory statement actually referred to the person or entity that believes they were defamed. A defamatory statement about car dealerships in general would not qualify as defamation, for example, but a statement about “the car dealership down the road” might, if someone who heard the claim understood it to mean your dealership.

Harm: Finally, you must be able to show that your business was harmed because of another's defamatory comments. For your business, this could mean a loss of revenue, clients, web traffic, etc. Maybe your dealership was about to finalize a deal to purchase the next dealership over when they backed out because they heard your business was untrustworthy. Whatever the case may be, if your business suffered an economic loss due to someone’s defamatory remarks, you could receive compensation.

In extreme cases, when defamation is constant and malicious, you may be entitled to injunctive relief—essentially a restraining order—for the offender’s speech. It used to be that injunctive relief for defamation was not awarded under any circumstances, but social media has made it so that rogue individuals can cause significant harm to a business without even leaving their homes, and courts across the country have begun to use injunctive relief as a response to repeat offenders.  

Getting Back on Track

If your business has been defamed, you are entitled to relief. Despite the high value that our government places on free speech, the abuse of that right should not be tolerated. Talk to an attorney who is experienced in business defamation about the facts of your case and learn what the legal system can do for you. Here at Sumsion Business Law, we bring 35+ years of experience in business law, a strong track record of business defamation success, and a passion to help our clients get the help they deserve. Call to schedule a consultation today and learn how you can get your business’s reputation back on track.

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