Virginia Defamation Attorneys Protecting Clients’ Rights for Nearly 20 Years
Handling libel and slander cases throughout Northern VA and Washington, D.C.
Has someone made false and derogatory statements about your character? Has your reputation suffered as a result? Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be entitled to compensation through a defamation lawsuit. The Leiser Law Firm, PLLC, a well-established labor law and employment law firm, is dedicated to representing clients throughout Northern Virginia and beyond.
Our legal team is professional, experienced, and highly qualified. We understand that defamation can cause substantial financial and psychological damage. Our lawyers carefully examine every piece of evidence in your case and assist you in taking action against the person or party responsible for attacking your character. We have also successfully defended those improperly sued for defamation.
What is defamation?
Defamation includes both written false statements (libel) and oral false statements (slander). Virginia law does not treat oral and written false statements differently. They fall under the single category of defamation. A person accused of libel and slander may face Class 3 misdemeanor charges in addition to civil penalties and should consult with an experienced lawyer immediately.
At The Leiser Law Firm, our attorneys have protected the rights and reputations of clients across Virginia since 2000. We have a thorough understanding of defamation and employment law and we can help you build a solid case. Following are the requirements for proving defamation:
- Must be a false statement of fact rather than opinion — To have a claim for defamation, the statement at issue must be false. For this reason, statements of opinion can never be the subject of a defamation lawsuit. For example, “John Smith is a dishonest person” states an opinion and is too broad and general to be the subject of a defamation lawsuit. By contrast, “John Smith stole $10,000 from me” can be proved true or false. Therefore, if the statement that John stole $10,000 is false, then that statement could be the subject of a defamation claim.
- Must be defamatory — In addition to the statement at issue being false, it must also be defamatory. That is, it must tend to harm one’s reputation. For example, stating that John Smith is a drug dealer would certainly harm John’s reputation. However, asserting that John Smith is a florist, even if false, would not tend to damage John’s reputation, and is therefore not defamatory, and could not serve as the basis for a defamation lawsuit.
- Must have been read or heard by a third party — It is important to distinguish between false statements that are mere insults and those that are defamatory. A letter from John to Sue stating that Sue is a prostitute may be very insulting to Sue. However, unless John communicated that statement either orally or in writing to some other person, the statement is merely an insult. To be the subject of a defamation lawsuit, the false statement must harm the reputation of the target of the statement. It can only harm the reputation if it is transmitted to a third person. If it is transmitted only to the target of the statement, it is an insult and, generally, the law does not provide a remedy for mere insults.
- Your reputation must suffer harm — The false and defamatory statement at issue must actually damage the reputation of the subject of the statement to support a lawsuit for defamation. The burden is on the plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) to prove such damage — often a difficult task. However, if the defamatory statement was communicated to an employer and, as a consequence, the target suffered a job loss, that person would have a viable claim for lost wages, and possible punitive damages, which in Virginia can be as high as $350,000.
Defamation per se
In addition, certain categories of statements are considered defamatory per se. That is, by their very nature, they are deemed to be damaging to someone’s reputation, and no proof of actual monetary loss is required.
If a false statement is made that accuses someone of engaging in criminal activity that involves moral turpitude — lying, cheating. or stealing — or the statement impugns the person’s ability to perform an occupation, trade, or profession, the statement is defamatory. Likewise, if a statement falsely claims that a person has a communicable disease such as AIDS, that would tend to make other people want to avoid that person, or if the statement claims that a person is a prostitute, the statement is defamatory per se, and a plaintiff can recover damages to be determined by a judge or jury without proving that the plaintiff suffered any economic losses.
Other statements that do not fall within those categories of defamation per se may still be defamatory, but the additional burden is placed on the plaintiff to prove the extent of economic or other losses, such as shame or humiliation. Besides economic losses (from the loss of a job, for example), a plaintiff who successfully brings a defamation claim can recover damages for harm to reputation, shame and humiliation, and if the statement was made deliberately, with knowledge of its falsity, or with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity, the plaintiff can recover punitive damages designed to punish the person who made the statement. In Virginia, punitive damages are limited by statute to $350,000. The other elements of damages are not limited, and successful plaintiffs have won millions of dollars to restore the damage done to their reputations.
Defamation by implication
Keep in mind that some statements may not appear defamatory, but by inserting some critical missing information, they become defamatory. For example, if someone says that Susan lives at 123 Main Street, and that statement is false, without more, it would not be defamatory. But suppose that statement appears in an article in which 123 Main Street was identified as a house of prostitution. That assertion obviously changes the meaning of the statement concerning Susan’s residence, and makes the statement defamatory by implication. If it is false, then Susan could file an action against the author and his publisher for defamation.
Consult with a reputable team of Virginia attorneys
The Leiser Law Firm, PLLC, has successfully represented plaintiffs in defamation lawsuits, and has successfully defended our clients from false claims of defamation. We are proud to assist clients in Virginia with defamation cases and many other complex legal issues. To find out if you qualify for a free consultation to discuss your case with one of our lawyers, call 703.734.5000 or contact us online.