Defamation Claims in Texas…When can talking trash get you sued?

In today’s digital age, it is very easy to spread information, whether it be opinion or accusation, out to hundreds – if not thousands – of other people with the click of a button. One hundred years ago, the way to make negative or broad statements to thousands of people would be to advertise in your local newspaper article or put up a giant billboard. 

Originally, defamation, also called libel and slander, typically was pursued against mass media or at a much smaller lever – mouth to mouth or pen to letter. Previous laws regarding defamation have not changed much compared to the current law here in Texas. According to the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code:

“Libel is a defamation expressed in written or other graphic form that tends to blacken the memory of the dead or that tends to injure a living person’s reputation and thereby expose the person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or financial injury or to impeach any person’s honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation or to publish the natural defects of anyone and thereby expose the person to public hatred, ridicule, or financial injury.” Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 73.001

There are a myriad of different degrees and types of claims that relate to public figures and newspapers or if the statement was made with the knowledge of falsity. On a day to day level for most people, especially online, it really comes down to the type of harm it creates and the type of statement being made.

The most common type of claim is defamation per se. Defamation per se is similar to defamation but rather is a false statement that relates to someone’s job or office. It can also include accusing someone of having an infectious disease or accusing someone of a crime by communicating the accusation to a third parties. In a majority of defamation cases you must prove damages. In defamation per se claims, damages are presumed.

Another common subject of suit in Texas under defamation laws is business disparagement. Business disparagement is commonly defined as “interference with commercial or economic relations.” Hurlbut v. Gulf Atlantic Life Ins. Co., 749 S.W.2d 762, 766 (Tex. 1987).

Think of a false statement that doesn’t harm a person, but harms an entity or business. Business disparagement is similar to defamation. An action for business disparagement protects the economic interests of a plaintiff against pecuniary loss. In comparison, an action for defamation protects the personal reputation of a plaintiff.

If you accuse a mechanic shop of using cheaper parts or allege they are overcharging you while undercharging other customers the mechanic shop may have a viable defamation claim against you if they can prove their reputation as a business has suffered negatively.

This explanation only scratches the surface. There are deadlines, notice requirements, and very dangerous motions that can force a defamation claim out of court and force a plaintiff to pay attorney’s fees. We will talk about those issues in the future.

Call us to see if your defamation claim is more than just trash talking. We are experienced in representing both plaintiffs and defendants.  

All information provided on www.ws-law.com is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used for legal advice. Users of this website should not take any actions or refrain from taking any actions based upon content or information on this website. Users of this site should contact a licensed Texas attorney for a full and complete review of their legal issues.

 

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